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Proposed Rule

Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Study Area

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AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Proposed rule; request for comments and information.

SUMMARY:

NMFS has received a request from the U.S. Navy (Navy) for authorization to take marine mammals incidental to the training and testing activities conducted in the Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT) study area from March 2015 through March 2020. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is requesting comments on its proposal to issue regulations and subsequent Letter of Authorization (LOA) to the Navy to incidentally harass marine mammals.

DATES:

Comments and information must be received no later than May 5, 2014.

ADDRESSES:

You may submit comments, identified by 0648-BD69, by either of the following methods:

  • Electronic submissions: submit all electronic public comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov
  • Hand delivery or mailing of paper, disk, or CD-ROM comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Incidental Take Program Supervisor, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225.

Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

An electronic copy of the Navy's application may be obtained by writing to the address specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications. The Navy's Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS/OEIS) for MITT was made available to the public on September 13, 2013 (78 FR 56682) and may also be viewed at http://www.mitt-eis.com. Documents cited in this notice may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the aforementioned address.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Michelle Magliocca, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the public for review.

Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), and if the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting of such takings are set forth. NMFS has defined “negligible impact” in 50 CFR 216.103 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.”

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2004 (NDAA) (Pub. L. 108-136) removed the “small numbers” and “specified geographical region” limitations indicated above and amended the definition of “harassment” as it applies to a “military readiness activity” to read as follows (section 3(18)(B) of the MMPA): “(i) Any act that injures or has the significant potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A Harassment]; or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered [Level B Harassment].”

Summary of Request

On April 22, 2013, NMFS received an application from the Navy requesting an LOA for the take of 26 species of marine mammals incidental to Navy training and testing activities to be conducted in the MITT Study Area over 5 years. The Navy is requesting regulations that would establish a process for authorizing take, via one 5-year LOA, of marine mammals for training and testing activities, proposed to be conducted from 2015 through 2020. The Study Area includes the existing Mariana Islands Range Complex and surrounding seas, a transit corridor between the Mariana Islands and the Navy's Hawaii Range Complex, and Navy pierside locations where sonar maintenance or testing may occur (see Figure 2-1 of the Navy's application for a map of the MITT Study Area). The proposed activities are classified as military readiness activities. Marine mammals present in the Study Area may be exposed to sound from active sonar and underwater detonations. In addition, incidental takes of marine mammals may occur from ship strikes. The Navy is requesting authorization to take 26 marine mammal species by Level B (behavioral) harassment and 13 marine mammal species by Level A harassment (injury) or mortality.

The Navy's application and the MITT DEIS/OEIS contain proposed acoustic thresholds that were used to evaluate the Navy's Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing and Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing activities. The revised thresholds are based on evaluation of recent scientific studies; a detailed explanation of how they were derived is provided in the MITT DEIS/OEIS' Criteria and Thresholds for U.S. Navy Acoustic and Explosive Effects Analysis Technical Report. NMFS is currently updating and revising all of its acoustic thresholds. Until that process is complete, NMFS will continue its long-standing practice of considering specific modifications to the acoustic thresholds currently employed for incidental take authorizations only after providing the Start Printed Page 15389public with an opportunity for review and comment.

Background of Request

The Navy's mission is to maintain, train, and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas. Section 5062 of Title 10 of the United States Code directs the Chief of Naval Operations to train all military forces for combat. The Chief of Naval Operations meets that direction, in part, by conducting at-sea training exercises and ensuring naval forces have access to ranges, operating areas (OPAREAs) and airspace where they can develop and maintain skills for wartime missions and conduct research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) of naval systems.

The Navy proposes to continue conducting training and testing activities within the MITT Study Area, which have been ongoing for decades. Most of these activities were last analyzed in the Mariana Island Range Complex (MIRC) EIS/OEIS (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2010). This document, among others, and its associated MMPA regulations and authorizations, describe the baseline of training and testing activities currently conducted in the Study Area. The tempo and types of training and testing activities have fluctuated due to changing requirements; new technologies; the dynamic nature of international events; advances in warfighting doctrine and procedures; and changes in basing locations for ships, aircraft, and personnel. Such developments influence the frequency, duration, intensity, and location of required training and testing activities. To meet these requirements, the Navy is proposing an increase in the number of events/activities and ordnance for training and testing purposes. The Navy's LOA request covers training and testing activities that would occur for a 5-year period following the expiration of the current MMPA authorizations. The Navy has also prepared a DEIS/OEIS analyzing the effects on the human environment of implementing their preferred alternative (among others).

Description of the Specified Activity

The Navy is requesting authorization to take marine mammals incidental to conducting training and testing activities. The Navy has determined that sonar use, underwater detonations, and ship strike are the stressors most likely to result in impacts on marine mammals that could rise to the level of harassment. Detailed descriptions of these activities are provided in the MITT DEIS/OEIS and LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm) and are summarized here.

Overview of Training Activities

The Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Coast Guard routinely train in the MITT Study Area in preparation for national defense missions. Training activities are categorized into eight functional warfare areas (anti-air warfare; amphibious warfare; strike warfare; anti-surface warfare; anti-submarine warfare; electronic warfare; mine warfare; and naval special warfare). The Navy determined that the following stressors used in these warfare areas are most likely to result in impacts on marine mammals:

  • Anti-surface warfare (underwater detonations)
  • Anti-submarine warfare (active sonar, underwater detonations)
  • Mine warfare (active sonar, underwater detonations)
  • Naval special warfare (underwater detonations)

Additionally, some activities described as Major Training Activities in the DEIS/OEIS and other activities are included in the analysis. The Navy's activities in amphibious warfare, anti-air warfare, strike warfare, and electronic warfare do not involve stressors that could result in harassment of marine mammals. Therefore, these activities are not discussed further. The analysis and rationale for excluding these warfare areas is contained in the DEIS/OEIS.

Anti-surface Warfare—The mission of anti-surface warfare is to defend against enemy ships or boats. When conducting anti-surface warfare, aircraft use cannons, missiles, or other precision-guided munitions; ships use torpedoes, naval guns, and surface-to-surface missiles; and submarines use torpedoes or submarine-launched, anti-ship cruise missiles. Anti-surface warfare training includes surface-to-surface gunnery and missile exercises, air-to-surface gunnery and missile exercises, and submarine missile or exercise torpedo launch events.

Anti-submarine Warfare—The mission of anti-submarine warfare is to locate, neutralize, and defeat hostile submarine threats to surface forces. Anti-submarine warfare is based on the principle of a layered defense of surveillance and attack aircraft, ships, and submarines all searching for hostile submarines. These forces operate together or independently to gain early warning and detection, and to localize, track, target, and attack hostile submarine threats. Anti-submarine warfare training addresses basic skills such as detection and classification of submarines, distinguishing between sounds made by enemy submarines and those of friendly submarines, ships, and marine life. More advanced, integrated anti-submarine warfare training exercises are conducted in coordinated, at-sea training events involving submarines, ships, and aircraft. This training integrates the full spectrum of anti-submarine warfare from detecting and tracking a submarine to attacking a target using either exercise torpedoes or simulated weapons.

Mine Warfare—The mission of mine warfare is to detect, and avoid or neutralize mines to protect Navy ships and submarines and to maintain free access to ports and shipping lanes. Mine warfare also includes offensive mine laying to gain control or deny the enemy access to sea space. Naval mines can be laid by ships, submarines, or aircraft. Mine warfare training includes exercises in which ships, aircraft, submarines, underwater vehicles, or marine mammal detection systems search for mines. Certain personnel train to destroy or disable mines by attaching and detonating underwater explosives to simulated mines. Other neutralization techniques involve impacting the mine with a bullet-like projectile or intentionally triggering the mine to detonate.

Naval Special Warfare—The mission of naval special warfare is to conduct unconventional warfare, direct action, combat terrorism, special reconnaissance, information warfare, security assistance, counter-drug operations, and recovery of personnel from hostile situations. Naval special warfare operations are highly specialized and require continual and intense training. Naval special warfare units are required to utilize a combination of specialized training, equipment, and tactics, including insertion and extraction operations using parachutes, submerged vehicles, rubber boats, and helicopters; boat-to-shore and boat-to-boat gunnery; underwater demolition training; reconnaissance; and small arms training.

Major Training Activities—Major training activities involve multiple ships, aircraft, and submarines in a multi-day exercise. Different branches of the U.S. military participate in joint planning and execution efforts as well as military training activities at sea, in the air, and ashore. More than 8,000 personnel may participate and could include the combined assets of a Carrier Start Printed Page 15390Strike Group and Expeditionary Strike Group, Marine Expeditionary Units, Army Infantry Units, and Air Force aircraft. One example of this coordinated activity is the Joint Multi Strike Group Exercise, a 10-day exercise in which up to three carrier strike groups conduct training exercises simultaneously.

Other Activities—Surface ship and submarine sonar maintenance, described under Other Activities in the DEIS/OEIS, involve in-port and at-sea maintenance of sonar systems.

Overview of Testing Activities

The Navy researches, develops, tests, and evaluates new platforms, systems, and technologies. Many tests are conducted in realistic conditions at sea, and can range in scale from testing new software to operating portable devices to conducting tests of live weapons to ensure they function as intended. Testing activities may occur independently of or in conjunction with training activities. Many testing activities are conducted similarly to Navy training activities and are also categorized under one of the primary mission areas. Other testing activities are unique and are described within their specific testing categories. The Navy determined that stressors used during the following testing activities are most likely to result in impacts on marine mammals:

  • Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Testing

○ Anti-surface warfare testing (underwater detonations)

○ Anti-submarine warfare testing (active sonar, underwater detonations)

  • Naval Sea Systems command (NAVSEA) Testing

○ New ship construction (active sonar, underwater detonations)

○ Life cycle activities (active sonar, underwater detonations)

○ Anti-surface warfare/anti-submarine warfare testing (active sonar, underwater detonations)

○ Ship protection systems and swimmer defense testing (active sonar)

  • Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) Testing

○ ONR/NRL research, development, test, and evaluation (active sonar)

Other Navy testing activities do not involve stressors that could result in marine mammal harassment. Therefore, these activities are not discussed further.

Naval Air Systems Command Testing (NAVAIR)—NAVAIR events include testing of new aircraft platforms, weapons, and systems before delivery to the fleet for training activities. In general, NAVAIR conducts its testing activities the same way the fleet conducts its training activities. However, NAVAIR testing activities may occur in different locations than equivalent fleet training activities and testing of a particular system may differ slightly from the way the fleet trains with the same system.

Anti-surface Warfare Testing: Anti-surface warfare testing includes air-to-surface gunnery, missile, and rocket exercises. Testing is required to ensure the equipment is fully functional for defense from surface threats. Testing may be conducted on new guns or run rounds, missiles, rockets, and aircraft, and also in support of scientific research to assess new and emerging technologies. Testing events are often integrated into training activities and in most cases the systems are used in the same manner in which they are used for fleet training activities.

Anti-submarine Warfare Testing: Anti-submarine warfare testing addresses basic skills such as detection and classification of submarines, distinguishing between sounds made by enemy submarines and those of friendly submarines, ships, and marine life. More advanced, integrated anti-submarine warfare testing is conducted in coordinated, at-sea training events involving submarines, ships, and aircraft. This testing integrates the full spectrum of anti-submarine warfare from detecting and tracking a submarine to attacking a target using various torpedoes and weapons.

Naval Sea Systems Command Testing (NAVSEA)—NAVSEA testing activities are aligned with its mission of new ship construction, life cycle support, and other weapon systems development and testing.

New Ship Construction Activities: Ship construction activities include testing of ship systems and developmental and operational test and evaluation programs for new technologies and systems. At-sea testing of systems aboard a ship may include sonar, acoustic countermeasures, radars, and radio equipment. At-sea test firing of shipboard weapon systems, including guns, torpedoes, and missiles, are also conducted.

Life Cycle Activities: Testing activities are conducted throughout the life of a Navy ship to verify performance and mission capabilities. Sonar system testing occurs pierside during maintenance, repair, and overhaul availabilities, and at sea immediately following most major overhaul periods. Radar cross signature testing of surface ships is conducted on new vessels and periodically throughout a ship's life to measure how detectable the ship is by radar. Electromagnetic measurements of off-board electromagnetic signature are also conducted for submarines, ships, and surface craft periodically.

Other Weapon Systems Development and Testing: Numerous test activities and technical evaluations, in support of NAVSEA's systems development mission, often occur with fleet activities within the Study Area. Tests within this category include anti-submarine and mine warfare tests using torpedoes, sonobuoys, and mine detection and neutralization systems. Swimmer detection systems are also tested pierside.

Office of Naval Research and Naval Research Laboratory Testing (ONR and NRL)—As the Navy's science and technology provider, ONR and NRL provide technology solutions for Navy and Marine Corps needs. ONR's mission is to plan, foster, and encourage scientific research in recognition of its paramount importance as related to the maintenance of future naval power, and the preservation of national security. Further, ONR manages the Navy's basic, applied, and advanced research to foster transition from science and technology to higher levels of research, development, test, and evaluation. The Ocean Battlespace Sensing Department explores science and technology in the areas of oceanographic and meteorological observations, modeling, and prediction in the battlespace environment; submarine detection and classification (anti-submarine warfare); and mine warfare applications for detecting and neutralizing mines in both the ocean and littoral environment. ONR events include research, development, test, and evaluation activities; surface processes acoustic communications experiments; shallow water acoustic communications experiments; sediment acoustics experiments; shallow water acoustic propagation experiments; and long range acoustic propagation experiments.

Sonar, Ordnance, Targets, and Other Systems

The Navy uses a variety of sensors, platforms, weapons, and other devices to meet its mission. Training and testing with these systems may introduce acoustic (sound) energy into the environment. This section describes and organizes sonar systems, ordnance, munitions, targets, and other systems to facilitate understanding of the activities in which these systems are used. Underwater sound is described as one of Start Printed Page 15391two types for the purposes of the Navy's application: impulsive and non-impulsive. Underwater detonations of explosives and other percussive events are impulsive sounds. Sonar and other active acoustic systems are categorized as non-impulsive sound sources.

Sonar and Other Non-impulsive Sources—Modern sonar technology includes a variety of sonar sensor and processing systems. The simplest active sonar emits sound waves, or “pings,” sent out in multiple directions and the sound waves then reflect off of the target object in multiple directions. The sonar source calculates the time it takes for the reflected sound waves to return; this calculation determines the distance to the target object. More sophisticated active sonar systems emit a ping and then rapidly scan or listen to the sound waves in a specific area. This provides both distance to the target and directional information. Even more advanced sonar systems use multiple receivers to listen to echoes from several directions simultaneously and provide efficient detection of both direction and distance. The Navy rarely uses active sonar continuously throughout activities. When sonar is in use, the pings occur at intervals, referred to as a duty cycle, and the signals themselves are very short in duration. For example, sonar that emits a 1-second ping every 10 seconds has a 10-percent duty cycle. The Navy utilizes sonar systems and other acoustic sensors in support of a variety of mission requirements. Primary uses include the detection of and defense against submarines (anti-submarine warfare) and mines (mine warfare); safe navigation and effective communications; use of unmanned undersea vehicles; and oceanographic surveys.

Ordnance and Munitions—Most ordnance and munitions used during training and testing events fall into three basic categories: projectiles (such as gun rounds), missiles (including rockets), and bombs. Ordnance can be further defined by their net explosive weight, which considers the type and quantity of the explosive substance without the packaging, casings, bullets, etc. Net explosive weight (NEW) is the trinitrotoluene (TNT) equivalent of energetic material, which is the standard measure of strength of bombs and other explosives. For example, a 12.7-centimeter (cm) shell fired from a Navy gun is analyzed at about 9.5 pounds (lb) (4.3 kilograms (kg)) of NEW. The Navy also uses non-explosive ordnance in place of high explosive ordnance in many training and testing events. Non-explosive ordnance munitions look and perform similarly to high explosive ordnance, but lack the main explosive charge.

Defense Countermeasures—Naval forces depend on effective defensive countermeasures to protect themselves against missile and torpedo attack. Defensive countermeasures are devices designed to confuse, distract, and confound precision guided munitions. Defensive countermeasures analyzed in this LOA application include acoustic countermeasures, which are used by surface ships and submarines to defend against torpedo attack. Acoustic countermeasures are either released from ships and submarines, or towed at a distance behind the ship.

Mine Warfare Systems—The Navy divides mine warfare systems into two categories: mine detection and mine neutralization. Mine detection systems are used to locate, classify, and map suspected mines. Once located, the mines can either be neutralized or avoided. The Navy analyzed the following mine detection systems for potential impacts to marine mammals:

  • Towed or hull-mounted mine detection systems. These detection systems use acoustic, laser, and video sensors to locate and classify mines. Fixed and rotary wing aircraft platforms, ships, and unmanned vehicles are used for towed systems, which can rapidly assess large areas.
  • Unmanned/remotely operated vehicles. These vehicles use acoustic, laser, and video sensors to locate and classify mines. Unmanned/remotely operated vehicles provide unique mine warfare capabilities in nearshore littoral areas, surf zones, ports, and channels.

Mine Neutralization Systems—Mine neutralization systems disrupt, disable, or detonate mines to clear ports and shipping lanes, as well as littoral, surf, and beach areas in support of naval amphibious operations. The Navy analyzed the following mine neutralization systems for potential impacts to marine mammals:

  • Towed influence mine sweep systems. These systems use towed equipment that mimic a particular ship's magnetic and acoustic signature triggering the mine and causing it to explode.
  • Unmanned/remotely operated mine neutralization systems. Surface ships and helicopters operate these systems, which place explosive charges near or directly against mines to destroy the mine.
  • Diver emplaced explosive charges. Operating from small craft, divers put explosive charges near or on mines to destroy the mine or disrupt its ability to function.

Classification of Non-Impulsive and Impulsive Sources Analyzed

In order to better organize and facilitate the analysis of about 300 sources of underwater non-impulsive sound or impulsive energy, the Navy developed a series of source classifications, or source bins. This method of analysis provides the following benefits:

  • Allows for new sources to be covered under existing authorizations, as long as those sources fall within the parameters of a “bin;”
  • Simplifies the data collection and reporting requirements anticipated under the MMPA;
  • Ensures a conservative approach to all impact analysis because all sources in a single bin are modeled as the loudest source (e.g., lowest frequency, highest source level, longest duty cycle, or largest net explosive weight within that bin);
  • Allows analysis to be conducted more efficiently, without compromising the results;
  • Provides a framework to support the reallocation of source usage (hours/explosives) between different source bins, as long as the total number and severity of marine mammal takes remain within the overall analyzed and authorized limits. This flexibility is required to support evolving Navy training and testing requirements, which are linked to real world events.

A description of each source classification is provided in Tables 1 and 2. Non-impulsive sources are grouped into bins based on the frequency, source level when warranted, and how the source would be used. Impulsive bins are based on the net explosive weight of the munitions or explosive devices. The following factors further describe how non-impulsive sources are divided:

  • Frequency of the non-impulsive source:

○ Low-frequency sources operate below 1 kilohertz (kHz)

○ Mid-frequency sources operate at or above 1 kHz, up to and including 10 kHz

○ High-frequency sources operate above 10 kHz, up to and including 100 kHz

○ Very high-frequency sources operate above 100, but below 200 kHz

  • Source level of the non-impulsive source:

○ Greater than 160 decibels (dB), but less than 180 dB

○ Equal to 180 dB and up to 200 dB

○ Greater than 200 dB

How a sensor is used determines how the sensor's acoustic emissions are Start Printed Page 15392analyzed. Factors to consider include pulse length (time source is on); beam pattern (whether sound is emitted as a narrow, focused beam, or, as with most explosives, in all directions); and duty cycle (how often a transmission occurs in a given time period during an event).

There are also non-impulsive sources with characteristics that are not anticipated to result in takes of marine mammals. These sources have low source levels, narrow beam widths, downward directed transmission, short pulse lengths, frequencies beyond known hearing ranges of marine mammals, or some combination of these factors. These sources generally have frequencies greater than 200 kHz and/or source levels less than 160 dB and are qualitatively analyzed in the MITT DEIS/OEIS.

Table 1—Impulsive Training and Testing Source Classes Analyzed

Source classRepresentative munitionsNet explosive weight (lbs)
E1Medium-caliber projectiles0.1-0.25 (45.4-113.4 g).
E2Medium-caliber projectiles0.26-0.5 (117.9-226.8 g).
E3Large-caliber projectiles>0.5-2.5 (>226.8 g-1.1 kg).
E4Improved Extended Echo Ranging Sonobuoy>2.5-5.0 (1.1-2.3 kg).
E55 in. (12.7 cm) projectiles>5-10 (>2.3-4.5 kg).
E615 lb. (6.8 kg) shaped charge>10-20 (>4.5-9.1 kg).
E8250 lb. (113.4 kg) bomb>60-100 (>27.2-45.4 kg).
E9500 lb. (226.8 kg) bomb>100-250 (>45.4-113.4 kg).
E101,000 lb. (453.6 kg) bomb>250-500 (>113.4-226.8 kg).
E11650 lb. (294.8 kg) mine>500-650 (>226.8-294.8 kg).
E122,000 lb. (907.2 kg) bomb>650-1,000 (>294.8-453.6 kg).

Table 2—Non-Impulsive Training and Testing Source Classes Analyzed

Source class categorySource classDescription
Low-Frequency (LF): Sources that produce low-frequency (less than 1 kilohertz [kHz]) signalsLF4 LF5 LF6Low-frequency sources equal to 180 dB and up to 200 dB. Low-frequency sources less than 180 dB. Low-frequency sonar currently in development (e.g., anti-submarine warfare sonar associated with the Littoral Combat Ship).
Mid-Frequency (MF): Tactical and non-tactical sources that produce mid-frequency (1 to 10 kHz) signalsMF1Active hull-mounted surface ship sonar (e.g., AN/SQS-53C and AN/SQS-60).
MF2Active hull-mounted surface ship sonar (e.g., AN/SQS-56).
MF3Active hull-mounted submarine sonar (e.g., AN/BQQ-10).
MF4Active helicopter-deployed dipping sonar (e.g., AN/AQS-22 and AN/AQS-13).
MF5Active acoustic sonobuoys (e.g., DICASS).
MF6Active underwater sound signal devices (e.g., MK-84).
MF8Active sources (greater than 200 dB) not otherwise binned.
MF9Active sources (equal to 180 dB and up to 200 dB).
MF10Active sources (greater than 160 dB, but less than 180 dB) not otherwise binned.
MF11Hull-mounted surface ship sonar with an active duty cycle greater than 80%.
MF12High duty cycle—variable depth sonar.
High-Frequency (HF) and Very High-Frequency (VHF): Tactical and non-tactical sources that produce high-frequency (greater than 10 kHz but less than 200 kHz) signalsHF1 HF4Active hull-mounted submarine sonar (e.g., AN/BQQ-10). Active mine detection, classification, and neutralization sonar (e.g., AN/SQS-20).
HF5Active sources (greater than 200 dB).
HF6Active sources (equal to 180 dB and up to 200 dB).
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): Tactical sources such as active sonobuoys and acoustic countermeasures systems used during ASW training and testing activitiesASW1 ASW2MF active Deep Water Active Distributed System (DWADS). MF active Multistatic Active Coherent (MAC) sonobuoy (e.g., AN/SSQ-125).
ASW3MF active towed active acoustic countermeasure systems (e.g., AN/SLQ-25).
Torpedoes (TORP): Source classes associated with active acoustic signals produced by torpedoesTORP1Lightweight torpedo (e.g., MK-46, MK-54, or Anti-Torpedo Torpedo).
TORP2Heavyweight torpedo (e.g., MK-48).
Acoustic Modems (M): Systems used to transmit data acoustically through waterM3Mid-frequency acoustic modems (greater than 190 dB).
Swimmer Detection Sonar (SD): Systems used to detect divers and submerged swimmersSD1High-frequency sources with short pulse lengths, used for the detection of swimmers and other objects for the purpose of port security.
Airguns (AG) 1: Underwater airguns are used during swimmer defense and diver deterrent training and testing activitiesAGUp to 60 cubic inch airguns (e.g., Sercel Mini-G).
1 There are no Level A or Level B takes proposed from airguns.
Start Printed Page 15393

Proposed Action

The Navy proposes to continue conducting training and testing activities within the MITT Study Area. The Navy has been conducting military readiness training and testing activities in the MITT Study Area for decades. Recently, these activities were analyzed in the 2010 MIRC EIS/OEIS and the 2012 MIRC Airspace Environmental Assessment. These documents, among others, and the associated MMPA regulations and authorizations, describe the baseline of training and testing activities currently conducted in the Study Area. The tempo and types of training and testing activities have fluctuated due to the introduction of new technologies; the dynamic nature of international events; advances in warfighting doctrine and procedures; and changes in basing locations for ships, aircraft, and personnel (force structure changes). Such developments have influenced the frequency, duration, intensity, and location of required training and testing activities. To meet these requirements, the Navy is proposing an increase in the number of events/activities and ordnance for training and testing purposes.

Training and Testing

The Navy proposes to conduct training and testing activities in the Study Area as described in Tables 3 and 4. Detailed information about each proposed activity (stressor, training or testing event, description, sound source, duration, and geographic location) can be found in the MITT DEIS/OEIS. NMFS used the detailed information in the MITT DEIS/OEIS to help analyze the potential impacts to marine mammals. Table 3 describes the annual number of impulsive source detonations during training and testing activities within the MITT Study Area, and Table 4 describes the annual number of hours or items of non-impulsive sources used during training and testing activities with within the MITT Study Area. The Navy's proposed action is an adjustment to existing baseline activities to accommodate the following:

  • Force structure changes including the relocation of ships, aircraft, and personnel;
  • Planned new aircraft platforms, new vessel classes, and new weapons systems;
  • Ongoing activities that were not addressed in previous documentation; and
  • The addition of Maritime Homeland Defense/Security Mine Countermeasures Exercise, as described in Table 2.4-1 of the MITT DEIS/OEIS;
  • The establishment of new danger zones or safety zones for site-specific military ordnance training with surface danger zones or hazard area extending over nearshore waters; and
  • An increase in net explosive weight for explosives from 10 lb to 20 lb at Agat Bay Mine Neutralization Site and Outer Apra Harbor Underwater Detonation Site.

In addition, the proposed action includes the expansion of the Study Area boundaries and adjustments to location, type, and tempo of training activities.

Table 3—Proposed Annual Number of Impulsive Source Detonations During Training and Testing Activities in the Study Area

Explosive classNet explosive weight (NEW)Annual in-water detonations
E1(0.1 lb.-0.25 lb.)10,140
E2(0.26 lb.-0.5 lb.)106
E3(>0.5 lb.-2.5 lb.)932
E4(>2.5 lb.-5 lb.)420
E5(>5 lb.-10 lb.)684
E6(>10 lb.-20 lb.)76
E8(>60 lb.-100 lb.)16
E9(>100 lb.-250 lb.)4
E10(>250 lb.-500 lb.)12
E11(>500 lb.-650 lb.)6
E12(>650 lb.-2,000 lb.)184

Table 4—Proposed Annual Hours or Items of Non-Impulsive Sources Used During Training and Testing Activities Within the Study Area

Source class categorySource classAnnual use
Low-Frequency (LF): Sources that produce signals less than 1 kHzLF4 LF5 LF6123 hours. 11 hours. 40 hours.
Mid-Frequency (MF): Tactical and non-tactical sources from 1 to 10 kHzMF1 MF2 MF31,872 hours. 625 hours. 192 hours.
MF4214 hours.
MF52,588 items.
MF633 items.
MF8123 hours.
MF947 hours.
MF10231 hours.
MF11324 hours.
MF12656 hours.
High-Frequency (HF) and Very High-Frequency (VHF): Tactical and non-tactical sources that produce signals greater than 10 kHz but less than 200 kHzHF1 HF4 HF5 HF6113 hours. 1,060 hours. 336 hours. 1,173 hours.
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): Tactical sources used during anti-submarine warfare training and testing activitiesASW1 ASW2 ASW3 ASW4144 hours. 660 items. 3,935 hours. 32 items.
Torpedoes (TORP): Source classes associated with active acoustic signals produced by torpedoesTORP1 TORP2115 items. 62 items.
Acoustic Modems (M): Transmit data acoustically through the waterM3112 hours.
Swimmer Detection Sonar (SD): Used to detect divers and submerged swimmersSD12,341 hours.
Start Printed Page 15394

Vessels

Vessels used as part of the proposed action include ships, submarines, and boats ranging in size from small, 5-m Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats to 333-m long aircraft carriers. Representative Navy vessel types, lengths, and speeds used in both training and testing activities are shown in Table 5. While these speeds are representative, some vessels operate outside of these speeds due to unique training or safety requirements for a given event. Examples include increased speeds needed for flight operations, full speed runs to test engineering equipment, time critical positioning needs, etc. Examples of decreased speeds include speeds less than 5 knots or completely stopped for launching small boats, certain tactical maneuvers, target launch or retrievals, etc.

The number of Navy vessels in the Study Area varies based on training and testing schedules. Most activities include either one or two vessels, with an average of one vessel per activity, and last from a few hours up to two weeks. Multiple ships, however, can be involved with major training events, although ships can often operate for extended periods beyond the horizon and out of visual sight from each other. Surface and sub-surface vessel operations in the Study Area may result in marine mammal strikes.

Table 5—Typical Navy Boat and Vessel Types With Length Greater Than 18 Meters Used Within the MITT Study Area

Vessel type (>18 m)Example(s) (specifications in meters (m) for length, metric tons (mt) for mass, and knots for speed)Typical operating speed (knots)
Aircraft CarrierAircraft Carrier (CVN) length: 333 m beam: 41 m draft: 12 m displacement: 81,284 mt max. speed: 30+ knots10 to 15.
Surface CombatantsCruiser (CG) length: 173 m beam: 17 m draft: 10 m displacement: 9,754 mt max. speed: 30+ knots10 to 15.
Destroyer (DDG) length: 155 m beam: 18 m draft: 9 m displacement: 9,648 mt max. speed: 30+ knots.
Frigate (FFG) length: 136 m beam: 14 m draft: 7 m displacement: 4,166 mt max. speed: 30+ knots.
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) length: 115 m beam: 18 m draft: 4 m displacement: 3,000 mt max. speed: 40+ knots.
Amphibious Warfare ShipsAmphibious Assault Ship (LHA, LHD) length: 253 m beam: 32 m draft: 8 m displacement: 42,442 mt max. speed: 20+ knots10 to 15.
Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD) length: 208 m beam: 32 m draft: 7 m displacement: 25,997 mt max. speed: 20+ knots.
Dock Landing Ship (LSD) length: 186 m beam: 26 m draft: 6 m displacement: 16,976 mt max. speed: 20+ knots.
Mine Warship ShipMine Countermeasures Ship (MCM) length: 68 m beam: 12 m draft: 4 m displacement: 1,333 max. speed: 14 knots5 to 8.
SubmarinesAttack Submarine (SSN) length: 115 m beam: 12 m draft: 9 m displacement: 12,353 mt max. speed: 20+ knots8 to 13.
Guided Missile Submarine (SSGN) length: 171 m beam: 13 m draft: 12 m displacement: 19,000 mt max. speed: 20+ knots.
Combat Logistics Force Ships 1Fast Combat Support Ship (T-AOE) length: 230 m beam: 33 m draft: 12 m displacement: 49,583 max. speed: 25 knots8 to 12.
Dry Cargo/Ammunition Ship (T-AKE) length: 210 m beam: 32 m draft: 9 m displacement: 41,658 mt max speed: 20 knots.
Fleet Replenishment Oilers (T-AO) length: 206 m beam: 30 m draft: 11 displacement: 42,674 mt max. speed: 20 knots.
Fleet Ocean Tugs (T-ATF) length: 69 m beam: 13 m draft: 5 m displacement: 2,297 max. speed: 14 knots.
Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) 2 length: 103 m beam; 28.5 m draft; 4.57 m displacement; 2,362 mt max speed: 40 knots.
Support Craft/OtherLanding Craft, Utility (LCU) length: 41m beam: 9 m draft: 2 m displacement: 381 mt max. speed: 11 knots3 to 5.
Landing Craft, Mechanized (LCM) length: 23 m beam: 6 m draft: 1 m displacement: 107 mt max. speed: 11 knots.
Support Craft/Other Specialized High SpeedMK V Special Operations Craft length: 25 m beam: 5 m displacement: 52 mt max. speed: 50 knotsVariable.
1 CLF vessels are not permanently homeported in the Marianas, but are used for various fleet support and training support events in the Study Area.
2 Typical operating speed of the Joint High Speed Vessel is 25-32 knots.

Dates and Specified Geographic Region

The MITT Study Area is comprised of the established ranges, operating areas, and special use airspace in the region of the Mariana Islands that are part of the MIRC, its surrounding seas, and a transit corridor between the Mariana Islands and the Hawaii Range Complex. The defined Study Area has expanded beyond the areas included in previous Navy authorizations to include transit routes and pierside locations. This expansion is not an increase in the Navy's training and testing area, but rather an increase in the area to be analyzed (i.e., not previously analyzed) under an incidental take authorization in support of the MITT EIS/OEIS. The MIRC, like all Navy range complexes, is an organized and designated set of specifically bounded geographic areas, which includes a water component (above and below the surface), airspace, and sometimes a land component. Start Printed Page 15395Operating areas (OPAREAs) and special use airspace are established within each range complex. These designations are further described in Chapter 2 of the Navy's LOA application.

Mariana Islands Range Complex (MIRC)—The MIRC includes land training areas, ocean surface areas, and subsurface areas. These areas extend from the waters south of Guam to north of Pagan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), and from the Pacific Ocean east of the Mariana Islands to the Philippine Sea to the west, encompassing 501, 873 square nautical miles of open ocean. More detailed information on the MIRC, including maps, is provided in Chapter 2 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Transit Corridor—A transit corridor outside the bounds of the MIRC is also included in the Navy's request. Vessel transit corridors are the routes typically used by Navy assets to traverse from one area to another. This transit corridor is important to the Navy in that it provides adequate air, sea, and undersea space in which ships and aircraft can conduct training and some sonar maintenance and testing while en route between the Mariana Islands and Hawaii. The transit corridor is defined by the shortest distance between the MIRC and the Hawaii Range Complex. While in transit, vessels and aircraft would, at times, conduct basic and routine unit level training such as gunnery and sonar training as long as the training does not interfere with the primary objective of reaching their intended destination. Ships also conduct sonar maintenance, which includes active sonar transmissions.

Pierside Locations—The Study Area also includes pierside locations in the Apra Harbor Naval Complex where surface ship and submarine sonar maintenance testing occur. These pierside locations include channels and routes to and from the Navy port in the Apra Harbor Naval Complex, and associated wharves and facilities within the Navy port and shipyard.

Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of the Specified Activity

Twenty-six marine mammal species may occur in the Study Area, including seven mysticetes (baleen whales) and 19 odontocetes (dolphins and toothed whales). These species and their numbers are presented in Table 6 and relevant information on their status, distribution, and seasonal distribution (when applicable) is presented in Chapter 3 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Species that may have once inhabited and transited the Study Area, but have not been sighted in recent years, include the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica), western subpopulation of gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi), northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris), and dugong (Dugong dugon g). These species are not expected to be exposed to or affected by any project activities and, therefore, are not discussed further.

Table 6—Marine Mammals With Possible or Confirmed Presence Within the Study Area

Common nameScientific nameStockStock abundanceStudy area abundanceOccurrence in study areaESA/MMPA status
Humpback whaleMegaptera novaeangliaeWestern North Pacific21,80836Rare in summer months; regular in winter monthsEndangered/Depleted.
Blue whaleBalaenoptera musculusCentral North PacificN/A842RareEndangered/Depleted.
Fin whaleBalaenoptera physalusN/A359RareEndangered/Depleted.
Sei whaleBalaenoptera borealisN/A166Rare in summer months; regular in winter monthsEndangered/Depleted.
Bryde's whaleBalaenoptera edeniN/A233Regular
Minke whaleBalaenoptera acutorostrataN/A226Rare in summer months; regular in winter months
Omura's whaleBalaenoptera omuraiN/AN/ARare
Sperm whalePhyseter macrocephalusCalifornia, Oregon, & Washington971705RegularEndangered/Depleted.
Pygmy sperm whaleKogia brevicepsN/AN/ARegular
Dwarf sperm whaleKogia simaN/AN/ARegular
Killer whaleOrcinus orcaN/A30Regular
False killer whalePseudorca crassidensN/AN/ARegular
Pygmy killer whaleFeresa attenuata95678Regular
Short-finned pilot whaleGlobicephala macrorhynchusJapanese southern stock?760118Regular
Melon-headed whalePeponocephala electraN/A2,455Regular
Bottlenose dolphinTursiops truncatusN/A323Regular
Pantropical spotted dolphinStenella attenuataN/A12,981Regular
Striped dolphinStenella coerulealbaN/A3,531Regular
Spinner dolphinStenella longirostris (Stenella longirostris longirostris)N/AN/ARegular
Rough-toothed dolphinSteno bredanensisN/AN/ARegular
Fraser's dolphinLagenodelphis hoseiN/AN/ARegular
Risso's dolphinsGrampus griseusN/AN/ARegular
Cuvier's beaked whaleZiphius cavirostrisN/AN/ARegular
Blainville's beaked whaleMesoplodon densirostrisN/AN/ARegular
Longman's beaked whaleIndopacetus pacificusN/AN/ARegular
Gingo-toothed beaked whaleMesoplodon gindgodensN/AN/ARare
Start Printed Page 15396

Information on the status, distribution, abundance, and vocalizations of marine mammal species in the Study Area may be viewed in Chapter 4 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications). Further information on the general biology and ecology of marine mammals is included in the MITT Draft EIS/OEIS. In addition, NMFS publishes annual stock assessment reports for marine mammals, including some stocks that occur within the Study Area (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​species/​mammals).

Marine Mammal Hearing and Vocalizations

Cetaceans have an auditory anatomy that follows the basic mammalian pattern, with some changes to adapt to the demands of hearing underwater. The typical mammalian ear is divided into an outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. The outer ear is separated from the inner ear by a tympanic membrane, or eardrum. In terrestrial mammals, the outer ear, eardrum, and middle ear transmit airborne sound to the inner ear, where the sound waves are propagated through the cochlear fluid. Since the impedance of water is close to that of the tissues of a cetacean, the outer ear is not required to transduce sound energy as it does when sound waves travel from air to fluid (inner ear). Sound waves traveling through the inner ear cause the basilar membrane to vibrate. Specialized cells, called hair cells, respond to the vibration and produce nerve pulses that are transmitted to the central nervous system. Acoustic energy causes the basilar membrane in the cochlea to vibrate. Sensory cells at different positions along the basilar membrane are excited by different frequencies of sound (Pickles, 1998).

Marine mammal vocalizations often extend both above and below the range of human hearing; vocalizations with frequencies lower than 20 Hz are labeled as infrasonic and those higher than 20 kHz as ultrasonic (National Research Council (NRC), 2003; Figure 4-1). Measured data on the hearing abilities of cetaceans are sparse, particularly for the larger cetaceans such as the baleen whales. The auditory thresholds of some of the smaller odontocetes have been determined in captivity. It is generally believed that cetaceans should at least be sensitive to the frequencies of their own vocalizations. Comparisons of the anatomy of cetacean inner ears and models of the structural properties and the response to vibrations of the ear's components in different species provide an indication of likely sensitivity to various sound frequencies. The ears of small toothed whales are optimized for receiving high-frequency sound, while baleen whale inner ears are best in low to infrasonic frequencies (Ketten, 1992; 1997; 1998).

Baleen whale vocalizations are composed primarily of frequencies below 1 kHz, and some contain fundamental frequencies as low as 16 Hz (Watkins et al., 1987; Richardson et al., 1995; Rivers, 1997; Moore et al., 1998; Stafford et al., 1999; Wartzok and Ketten, 1999) but can have harmonics that can extend as high as 24 kHz (humpback whale; Au et al., 2006). Clark and Ellison (2004) suggested that baleen whales use low-frequency sounds not only for long-range communication, but also as a simple form of echo ranging, using echoes to navigate and orient relative to physical features of the ocean. Although there is apparently much variation, the source levels of most baleen whale vocalizations lie in the range of 150-190 dB re 1 µPa at 1 m. Low-frequency vocalizations made by baleen whales and their corresponding auditory anatomy suggest that they have good low-frequency hearing (Ketten, 2000; Houser et al., 2001; Parks et al., 2007), although specific data on sensitivity, frequency or intensity discrimination, or localization abilities are lacking. Marine mammals, like all mammals, have typical U-shaped audiograms with frequencies on the edge of the auditory range being less sensitive (high threshold) compared to those in the middle of the auditory range where there is greater sensitivity (low threshold) (Fay, 1988).

The toothed whales produce a wide variety of sounds, which include species-specific broadband “clicks” with peak energy between 10 and 200 kHz, individually variable “burst pulse” click trains, and constant frequency or frequency-modulated (FM) whistles ranging from 4 to 16 kHz (Wartzok and Ketten, 1999). The general consensus is that the tonal vocalizations (whistles) produced by toothed whales play an important role in maintaining contact between dispersed individuals, while broadband clicks are used during echolocation (Wartzok and Ketten, 1999). Burst pulses have also been strongly implicated in communication, with some scientists suggesting that they play an important role in agonistic encounters (McCowan and Reiss, 1995), while others have proposed that they represent “emotive” signals in a broader sense, possibly representing graded communication signals (Herzing, 1996). Sperm whales, however, are known to produce only clicks, which are used for both communication and echolocation (Whitehead, 2003). Most of the energy of toothed whale social vocalizations is concentrated near 10 kHz, with source levels for whistles as high as 100 to 180 dB re 1 µPa at 1 m (Richardson et al., 1995). Sperm whales produce clicks, which may be used to echolocate (Mullins et al., 1988), with a frequency range from less than 100 Hz to 30 kHz and source levels up to 230 dB re 1 µPa 1 m or greater (Mohl et al., 2000).

Brief Background on Sound

An understanding of the basic properties of underwater sound is necessary to comprehend many of the concepts and analyses presented in this document. A summary is included below.

Sound is a wave of pressure variations propagating through a medium (e.g., water). Pressure variations are created by compressing and relaxing the medium. Sound measurements can be expressed in two forms: intensity and pressure. Acoustic intensity is the average rate of energy transmitted through a unit area in a specified direction and is expressed in watts per square meter (W/m2). Acoustic intensity is rarely measured directly, but rather from ratios of pressures; the standard reference pressure for underwater sound is 1 microPascal (µPa); for airborne sound, the standard reference pressure is 20 µPa (Richardson et al., 1995).

Acousticians have adopted a logarithmic scale for sound intensities, which is denoted in decibels (dB). Decibel measurements represent the ratio between a measured pressure value and a reference pressure value (in this case 1 µPa or, for airborne sound, 20 µPa). The logarithmic nature of the scale means that each 10-dB increase is a ten-fold increase in acoustic power (and a 20-dB increase is then a 100-fold increase in power; and a 30-dB increase is a 1,000-fold increase in power). A ten-fold increase in acoustic power does not mean that the sound is perceived as being ten times louder, however. Humans perceive a 10-dB increase in sound level as a doubling of loudness, and a 10-dB decrease in sound level as a halving of loudness. The term “sound pressure level” implies a decibel measure and a reference pressure that is used as the denominator of the ratio. Throughout this document, NMFS uses 1 microPascal (denoted re: 1µPa) as a standard reference pressure unless noted otherwise.

It is important to note that decibel values underwater and decibel values in air are not the same (different reference Start Printed Page 15397pressures and densities/sound speeds between media) and should not be directly compared. Because of the different densities of air and water and the different decibel standards (i.e., reference pressures) in air and water, a sound with the same pressure level in air and in water would be approximately 26 dB lower in air. Thus, a sound that measures 160 dB (re 1 µPa) underwater would have the same approximate effective level as a sound that is 134 dB (re 20 µPa) in air.

Sound frequency is measured in cycles per second, or Hertz (abbreviated Hz), and is analogous to musical pitch; high-pitched sounds contain high frequencies and low-pitched sounds contain low frequencies. Natural sounds in the ocean span a huge range of frequencies: from an earthquake producing sound at 5 Hz to harbor porpoise clicks at 150,000 Hz (150 kHz). These sounds are so low or so high in pitch that humans cannot even hear them; acousticians call these infrasonic (typically below 20 Hz, relative to lower frequency bound of human hearing range) and ultrasonic (typically above 20,000 Hz, relative to upper frequency bound of human hearing range) sounds, respectively. A single sound may be made up of many different frequencies together. Sounds made up of only a small range of frequencies are called “narrowband,” and sounds encompassing a broad range of frequencies are called “broadband;” explosives are an example of a broadband sound source and active tactical sonars are an example of a narrowband sound source.

When considering the influence of various kinds of sound on the marine environment, it is necessary to understand that different groups of marine life are sensitive to different frequencies of sound. Based on available behavioral data, audiograms derived using behavioral protocols or auditory evoked potential (AEP) techniques, anatomical modeling, and other data, Southall et al. (2007) designate “functional hearing groups” for marine mammals and estimate the lower and upper frequencies of functional hearing of the groups. Further, the frequency range in which each group's hearing is estimated as being most sensitive is represented in the flat part of the M-weighting functions (which are derived from the audiograms described above; see Figure 1 in Southall et al., 2007) developed for each broad group. The functional groups and the associated frequencies for cetaceans are indicated below (though, again, animals are less sensitive to sounds at the outer edge of their functional range and most sensitive to sounds of frequencies within a smaller range somewhere in the middle of their functional hearing range):

  • Low-frequency cetaceans—functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 7 Hz and 30 kHz;
  • Mid-frequency cetaceans—functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 150 Hz and 160 kHz;
  • High-frequency cetaceans—functional hearing is estimated to occur between approximately 200 Hz and 180 kHz;

The estimated hearing range for low-frequency cetaceans has been extended slightly from previous analyses and what was proposed in Southall et al. (2007) (from 22 to 30 kHz). This decision is based on data from Watkins et al. (1986) for numerous mysticete species, Au et al. (2006) for humpback whales, an abstract from Frankel (2005) and paper from Lucifredi and Stein (2007) on gray whales, and an unpublished report (Ketten and Mountain, 2009) and abstract (Tubelli et al., 2012) for minke whales. As more data from more species and/or individuals become available, these estimated hearing ranges may require modification.

When sound travels (propagates) from its source, its loudness decreases as the distance traveled by the sound increases (propagation loss, also commonly called transmission loss). Thus, the loudness of a sound at its source is higher than the loudness of that same sound a kilometer away. Acousticians often refer to the loudness of a sound at its source (typically referenced to one meter from the source) as the source level and the loudness of sound elsewhere as the received level (i.e., typically the receiver). For example, a humpback whale 3 km from a device that has a source level of 230 dB may only be exposed to sound that is 160 dB loud, depending on how the sound travels through water (e.g., spherical spreading [6 dB reduction with doubling of distance] was used in this example). As a result, it is important to understand the difference between source levels and received levels when discussing the loudness of sound in the ocean or its impacts on the marine environment.

As sound travels from a source, its propagation in water is influenced by various physical characteristics, including water temperature, depth, salinity, and surface and bottom properties that cause refraction, reflection, absorption, and scattering of sound waves. Oceans are not homogeneous and the contribution of each of these individual factors is extremely complex and interrelated. The physical characteristics that determine the sound's speed through the water will change with depth, season, geographic location, and with time of day (as a result, in actual active sonar operations, crews will measure oceanic conditions, such as sea water temperature and depth, to calibrate models that determine the path the sonar signal will take as it travels through the ocean and how strong the sound signal will be at a given range along a particular transmission path).

Metrics Used in This Document

This section includes a brief explanation of the two sound measurements (sound pressure level (SPL) and sound exposure level (SEL)) frequently used to describe sound levels in the discussions of acoustic effects in this document.

Sound pressure level (SPL)—Sound pressure is the sound force per unit area, and is usually measured in micropascals (µPa), where 1 Pa is the pressure resulting from a force of one newton exerted over an area of one square meter. SPL is expressed as the ratio of a measured sound pressure and a reference level.

SPL (in dB) = 20 log (pressure/reference pressure)

The commonly used reference pressure level in underwater acoustics is 1 µPa, and the units for SPLs are dB re: 1 µPa. SPL is an instantaneous pressure measurement and can be expressed as the peak, the peak-peak, or the root mean square (rms). Root mean square pressure, which is the square root of the average of the square of the pressure of the sound signal over a given duration, is typically used in discussions of the effects of sounds on vertebrates and all references to SPL in this document refer to the root mean square. SPL does not take the duration of exposure into account. SPL is the applicable metric used in the risk continuum, which is used to estimate behavioral harassment takes (see Level B Harassment Risk Function (Behavioral Harassment) Section).

Sound exposure level (SEL)—SEL is an energy metric that integrates the squared instantaneous sound pressure over a stated time interval. The units for SEL are dB re: 1 µPa2-s. Below is a simplified formula relating SPL to SEL.

SEL = SPL + 10log(duration in seconds)

As applied to active sonar, the SEL includes both the SPL of a sonar ping and the total duration of exposure at that SPL. Longer duration pings and/or pings with higher SPLs will have a Start Printed Page 15398higher SEL. If an animal is exposed to multiple pings, the SEL in each individual ping is summed to calculate the cumulative SEL. The cumulative SEL depends on the SPL, duration, and number of pings received. The thresholds that NMFS uses to indicate at what received level the onset of temporary threshold shift (TTS) and permanent threshold shift (PTS) in hearing are likely to occur are expressed as cumulative SEL.

Potential Effects of the Specified Activity on Marine Mammals

The Navy has requested authorization for the take of marine mammals that may occur incidental to training and testing activities in the Study Area. The Navy has analyzed potential impacts to marine mammals from impulsive and non-impulsive sound sources and vessel strike.

Other potential impacts to marine mammals from training and testing activities in the Study Area are analyzed in the Navy's MITT DEIS/OEIS, in consultation with NMFS as a cooperating agency, and determined to be unlikely to result in marine mammal harassment. Therefore, the Navy has not requested authorization for take of marine mammals that might occur incidental to other components of their proposed activities. In this document, NMFS analyzes the potential effects on marine mammals from exposure to non-impulsive sound sources (sonar and other active acoustic sources), impulsive sound sources (underwater), and vessel strikes.

For the purpose of MMPA authorizations, NMFS' effects assessments serve four primary purposes: (1) To prescribe the permissible methods of taking (i.e., Level B harassment (behavioral harassment), Level A harassment (injury), or mortality, including an identification of the number and types of take that could occur by harassment or mortality) and to prescribe other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on such species or stock and its habitat (i.e., mitigation); (2) to determine whether the specified activity would have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks of marine mammals (based on the likelihood that the activity would adversely affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival); (3) to determine whether the specified activity would have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses; and (4) to prescribe requirements pertaining to monitoring and reporting.

More specifically, for activities involving non-impulsive or impulsive sources, NMFS' analysis will identify the probability of lethal responses, physical trauma, sensory impairment (permanent and temporary threshold shifts and acoustic masking), physiological responses (particular stress responses), behavioral disturbance (that rises to the level of harassment), and social responses (effects to social relationships) that would be classified as a take and whether such take would have a negligible impact on such species or stocks. Vessel strikes, which have the potential to result in incidental take from direct injury and/or mortality, will be discussed in more detail in the Estimated Take of Marine Mammals section. In this section, we will focus qualitatively on the different ways that non-impulsive and impulsive sources may affect marine mammals (some of which NMFS would not classify as harassment). Then, in the Estimated Take of Marine Mammals section, we will relate the potential effects to marine mammals from non-impulsive and impulsive sources to the MMPA definitions of Level A and Level B Harassment, along with the potential effects from vessel strikes, and attempt to quantify those effects.

Non-Impulsive Sources

Direct Physiological Effects

Based on the literature, there are two basic ways that non-impulsive sources might directly result in physical trauma or damage: noise-induced loss of hearing sensitivity (more commonly-called “threshold shift”) and acoustically mediated bubble growth. Separately, an animal's behavioral reaction to an acoustic exposure might lead to physiological effects that might ultimately lead to injury or death, which is discussed later in the Stranding section.

Threshold Shift (noise-induced loss of hearing)—When animals exhibit reduced hearing sensitivity (i.e., sounds must be louder for an animal to detect them) following exposure to an intense sound or sound for long duration, it is referred to as a noise-induced threshold shift (TS). An animal can experience temporary threshold shift (TTS) or permanent threshold shift (PTS). TTS can last from minutes or hours to days (i.e., there is complete recovery), can occur in specific frequency ranges (i.e., an animal might only have a temporary loss of hearing sensitivity between the frequencies of 1 and 10 kHz), and can be of varying amounts (for example, an animal's hearing sensitivity might be reduced initially by only 6 dB or reduced by 30 dB). PTS is permanent (i.e., there is not complete recovery), but some recovery is possible. PTS can also occur in a specific frequency range and amount as mentioned above for TTS.

The following physiological mechanisms are thought to play a role in inducing auditory TS: Effects to sensory hair cells in the inner ear that reduce their sensitivity, modification of the chemical environment within the sensory cells, residual muscular activity in the middle ear, displacement of certain inner ear membranes, increased blood flow, and post-stimulatory reduction in both efferent and sensory neural output (Southall et al., 2007). The amplitude, duration, frequency, temporal pattern, and energy distribution of sound exposure all can affect the amount of associated TS and the frequency range in which it occurs. As amplitude and duration of sound exposure increase, so, generally, does the amount of TS, along with the recovery time. For intermittent sounds, less TS could occur than compared to a continuous exposure with the same energy (some recovery could occur between intermittent exposures depending on the duty cycle between sounds) (Kryter et al., 1966; Ward, 1997). For example, one short but loud (higher SPL) sound exposure may induce the same impairment as one longer but softer sound, which in turn may cause more impairment than a series of several intermittent softer sounds with the same total energy (Ward, 1997). Additionally, though TTS is temporary, prolonged exposure to sounds strong enough to elicit TTS, or shorter-term exposure to sound levels well above the TTS threshold, can cause PTS, at least in terrestrial mammals (Kryter, 1985). In the case of mid- and high-frequency active sonar (MFAS/HFAS), animals are not expected to be exposed to levels high enough or durations long enough to result in PTS.

PTS is considered auditory injury (Southall et al., 2007). Irreparable damage to the inner or outer cochlear hair cells may cause PTS; however, other mechanisms are also involved, such as exceeding the elastic limits of certain tissues and membranes in the middle and inner ears and resultant changes in the chemical composition of the inner ear fluids (Southall et al., 2007).

Although the published body of scientific literature contains numerous theoretical studies and discussion papers on hearing impairments that can occur with exposure to a loud sound, only a few studies provide empirical information on the levels at which Start Printed Page 15399noise-induced loss in hearing sensitivity occurs in nonhuman animals. For cetaceans, published data are limited to the captive bottlenose dolphin, beluga, harbor porpoise, and Yangtze finless porpoise (Finneran et al., 2000, 2002b, 2003, 2005a, 2007, 2010a, 2010b; Finneran and Schlundt, 2010; Lucke et al., 2009; Mooney et al., 2009a, 2009b; Popov et al., 2011a, 2011b, 2013; Kastelein et al., 2012a; Schlundt et al., 2000; Nachtigall et al., 2003, 2004).

Marine mammal hearing plays a critical role in communication between animals of the same species, and interpretation of environmental cues for purposes such as predator avoidance and prey capture. Depending on the degree (elevation of threshold in dB), duration (i.e., recovery time), and frequency range of TTS, and the context in which it is experienced, TTS can have effects on marine mammals ranging from discountable to serious (similar to those discussed in auditory masking, below). For example, a marine mammal may be able to readily compensate for a brief, relatively small amount of TTS in a non-critical frequency range that occurs during a time where ambient noise is lower and there are not as many competing sounds present. Alternatively, a larger amount and longer duration of TTS sustained during time when communication is critical for successful mother/calf interactions could have more serious impacts. Also, depending on the degree and frequency range, the effects of PTS on an animal could range in severity, although it is considered generally more serious because it is a permanent condition. Of note, reduced hearing sensitivity as a simple function of aging (presbycusis) has been observed in marine mammals, as well as humans and other taxa (Southall et al., 2007), so we can infer that strategies exist for coping with this condition to some degree, though likely not without cost.

Acoustically Mediated Bubble Growth—One theoretical cause of injury to marine mammals is rectified diffusion (Crum and Mao, 1996), the process of increasing the size of a bubble by exposing it to a sound field. This process could be facilitated if the environment in which the ensonified bubbles exist is supersaturated with gas. Repetitive diving by marine mammals can cause the blood and some tissues to accumulate gas to a greater degree than is supported by the surrounding environmental pressure (Ridgway and Howard, 1979). The deeper and longer dives of some marine mammals (for example, beaked whales) are theoretically predicted to induce greater supersaturation (Houser et al., 2001b). If rectified diffusion were possible in marine mammals exposed to high-level sound, conditions of tissue supersaturation could theoretically speed the rate and increase the size of bubble growth. Subsequent effects due to tissue trauma and emboli would presumably mirror those observed in humans suffering from decompression sickness.

It is unlikely that the short duration of sonar pings or explosion sounds would be long enough to drive bubble growth to any substantial size, if such a phenomenon occurs. However, an alternative but related hypothesis has also been suggested: stable bubbles could be destabilized by high-level sound exposures such that bubble growth then occurs through static diffusion of gas out of the tissues. In such a scenario the marine mammal would need to be in a gas-supersaturated state for a long enough period of time for bubbles to become of a problematic size.

Yet another hypothesis (decompression sickness) has speculated that rapid ascent to the surface following exposure to a startling sound might produce tissue gas saturation sufficient to form nitrogen bubbles (Jepson et al., 2003; Fernandez et al., 2005). In this scenario, the rate of ascent would need to be sufficiently rapid to compromise behavioral or physiological protections against nitrogen bubble formation. Alternatively, Tyack et al. (2006) studied the deep diving behavior of beaked whales and concluded that: “Using current models of breath-hold diving, we infer that their natural diving behavior is inconsistent with known problems of acute nitrogen supersaturation and embolism.” Collectively, these hypotheses can be referred to as “hypotheses of acoustically mediated bubble growth.”

Although theoretical predictions suggest the possibility for acoustically mediated bubble growth, there is considerable disagreement among scientists as to its likelihood (Piantadosi and Thalmann, 2004; Evans and Miller, 2003). Crum and Mao (1996) hypothesized that received levels would have to exceed 190 dB in order for there to be the possibility of significant bubble growth due to supersaturation of gases in the blood (i.e., rectified diffusion). More recent work conducted by Crum et al. (2005) demonstrated the possibility of rectified diffusion for short duration signals, but at SELs and tissue saturation levels that are highly improbable to occur in diving marine mammals. To date, energy levels (ELs) predicted to cause in vivo bubble formation within diving cetaceans have not been evaluated (NOAA, 2002b). Although it has been argued that traumas from some recent beaked whale strandings are consistent with gas emboli and bubble-induced tissue separations (Jepson et al., 2003), there is no conclusive evidence of this. However, Jepson et al. (2003, 2005) and Fernandez et al. (2004, 2005) concluded that in vivo bubble formation, which may be exacerbated by deep, long-duration, repetitive dives may explain why beaked whales appear to be particularly vulnerable to sonar exposures. Further investigation is needed to further assess the potential validity of these hypotheses. More information regarding hypotheses that attempt to explain how behavioral responses to non-impulsive sources can lead to strandings is included in the Stranding and Mortality section.

Acoustic Masking

Marine mammals use acoustic signals for a variety of purposes, which differ among species, but include communication between individuals, navigation, foraging, reproduction, and learning about their environment (Erbe and Farmer 2000, Tyack 2000). Masking, or auditory interference, generally occurs when sounds in the environment are louder than and of a similar frequency to, auditory signals an animal is trying to receive. Masking is a phenomenon that affects animals that are trying to receive acoustic information about their environment, including sounds from other members of their species, predators, prey, and sounds that allow them to orient in their environment. Masking these acoustic signals can disturb the behavior of individual animals, groups of animals, or entire populations.

The extent of the masking interference depends on the spectral, temporal, and spatial relationships between the signals an animal is trying to receive and the masking noise, in addition to other factors. In humans, significant masking of tonal signals occurs as a result of exposure to noise in a narrow band of similar frequencies. As the sound level increases, though, the detection of frequencies above those of the masking stimulus decreases also. This principle is expected to apply to marine mammals as well because of common biomechanical cochlear properties across taxa.

Richardson et al. (1995b) stated that the maximum radius of influence of an industrial noise (including broadband low frequency sound transmission) on a marine mammal is the distance from the source to the point at which the noise Start Printed Page 15400can barely be heard. This range is determined by either the hearing sensitivity of the animal or the background noise level present. Industrial masking is most likely to affect some species' ability to detect communication calls and natural sounds (i.e., surf noise, prey noise, etc.; Richardson et al., 1995).

The echolocation calls of toothed whales are subject to masking by high-frequency sound. Human data indicate low-frequency sound can mask high-frequency sounds (i.e., upward masking). Studies on captive odontocetes by Au et al. (1974, 1985, 1993) indicate that some species may use various processes to reduce masking effects (e.g., adjustments in echolocation call intensity or frequency as a function of background noise conditions). There is also evidence that the directional hearing abilities of odontocetes are useful in reducing masking at the high-frequencies these cetaceans use to echolocate, but not at the low-to-moderate frequencies they use to communicate (Zaitseva et al., 1980). A study by Nachtigall and Supin (2008) showed that false killer whales adjust their hearing to compensate for ambient sounds and the intensity of returning echolocation signals.

As mentioned previously, the functional hearing ranges of mysticetes and odontocetes underwater all encompass the frequencies of the sonar sources used in the Navy's MFAS/HFAS training exercises. Additionally, almost all species' vocal repertoires span across the frequencies of these sonar sources used by the Navy. The closer the characteristics of the masking signal to the signal of interest, the more likely masking is to occur. For hull-mounted sonar, which accounts for the largest takes of marine mammals (because of the source strength and number of hours it's conducted), the pulse length and low duty cycle of the MFAS/HFAS signal makes it less likely that masking would occur as a result.

Impaired Communication

In addition to making it more difficult for animals to perceive acoustic cues in their environment, anthropogenic sound presents separate challenges for animals that are vocalizing. When they vocalize, animals are aware of environmental conditions that affect the “active space” of their vocalizations, which is the maximum area within which their vocalization can be detected before it drops to the level of ambient noise (Brenowitz, 2004; Brumm et al., 2004; Lohr et al., 2003). Animals are also aware of environmental conditions that affect whether listeners can discriminate and recognize their vocalizations from other sounds, which is more important than simply detecting that a vocalization is occurring (Brenowitz, 1982; Brumm et al., 2004; Dooling, 2004, Marten and Marler, 1977; Patricelli et al., 2006). Most animals that vocalize have evolved with an ability to make adjustments to their vocalizations to increase the signal-to-noise ratio, active space, and recognizability/distinguishability of their vocalizations in the face of temporary changes in background noise (Brumm et al., 2004; Patricelli et al., 2006). Vocalizing marine mammals can make adjustments to vocalization characteristics such as the frequency structure, amplitude, temporal structure, and temporal delivery (e.g., Au et al., 1985; Di Iorio and Clark, 2009; Holt et al., 2009; Parks et al., 2009; Parks et al., 2011).

Many animals will combine several of these strategies to compensate for high levels of background noise. Anthropogenic sounds that reduce the signal-to-noise ratio of animal vocalizations, increase the masked auditory thresholds of animals listening for such vocalizations, or reduce the active space of an animal's vocalizations impair communication between animals. Most animals that vocalize have evolved strategies to compensate for the effects of short-term or temporary increases in background or ambient noise on their songs or calls. Although the fitness consequences of these vocal adjustments remain unknown, like most other trade-offs animals must make, some of these strategies probably come at a cost (Patricelli et al., 2006). For example, vocalizing more loudly in noisy environments may have energetic costs that decrease the net benefits of vocal adjustment and alter a bird's energy budget (Brumm, 2004; Wood and Yezerinac, 2006). Shifting songs and calls to higher frequencies may also impose energetic costs (Lambrechts, 1996).

Stress Responses

Classic stress responses begin when an animal's central nervous system perceives a potential threat to its homeostasis. That perception triggers stress responses regardless of whether a stimulus actually threatens the animal; the mere perception of a threat is sufficient to trigger a stress response (Moberg, 2000; Sapolsky et al., 2005; Seyle, 1950). Once an animal's central nervous system perceives a threat, it mounts a biological response or defense that consists of a combination of the four general biological defense responses: behavioral responses, autonomic nervous system responses, neuroendocrine responses, or immune responses.

In the case of many stressors, an animal's first and sometimes most economical (in terms of biotic costs) response is behavioral avoidance of the potential stressor or avoidance of continued exposure to a stressor. An animal's second line of defense to stressors involves the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system and the classical “fight or flight” response, which includes the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal system, the exocrine glands, and the adrenal medulla to produce changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and gastrointestinal activity that humans commonly associate with “stress.” These responses have a relatively short duration and may have significant long-term effect on an animal's welfare.

An animal's third line of defense to stressors involves its neuroendocrine systems; the system that has received the most study has been the hypothalmus-pituitary-adrenal system (also known as the HPA axis in mammals or the hypothalamus-pituitary-interrenal axis in fish and some reptiles). Unlike stress responses associated with the autonomic nervous system, virtually all neuroendocrine functions that are affected by stress—including immune competence, reproduction, metabolism, and behavior—are regulated by pituitary hormones. Stress-induced changes in the secretion of pituitary hormones have been implicated in failed reproduction (Moberg, 1987; Rivier, 1995), altered metabolism (Elasser et al., 2000), reduced immune competence (Blecha, 2000), and behavioral disturbance. Increases in the circulation of glucocorticosteroids (cortisol, corticosterone, and aldosterone in marine mammals; see Romano et al., 2004) have been equated with stress for many years.

The primary distinction between stress (which is adaptive and does not normally place an animal at risk) and distress is the biotic cost of the response. During a stress response, an animal uses glycogen stores that can be quickly replenished once the stress is alleviated. In such circumstances, the cost of the stress response does not pose a risk to the animal's welfare. However, when an animal does not have sufficient energy reserves to satisfy the energetic costs of a stress response, energy resources must be diverted from other biotic functions, which impairs those functions that experience the diversion. For example, when mounting a stress response diverts energy away from growth in young animals, those animals Start Printed Page 15401may experience stunted growth. When mounting a stress response diverts energy from a fetus, an animal's reproductive success and its fitness will suffer. In these cases, the animals will have entered a pre-pathological or pathological state which is called “distress” (sensu Seyle 1950) or “allostatic loading” (sensu McEwen and Wingfield, 2003). This pathological state will last until the animal replenishes its biotic reserves sufficient to restore normal function. Note that these examples involved a long-term (days or weeks) stress response exposure to stimuli.

Relationships between these physiological mechanisms, animal behavior, and the costs of stress responses have also been documented fairly well through controlled experiments; because this physiology exists in every vertebrate that has been studied, it is not surprising that stress responses and their costs have been documented in both laboratory and free-living animals (for examples see, Holberton et al., 1996; Hood et al., 1998; Jessop et al., 2003; Krausman et al., 2004; Lankford et al., 2005; Reneerkens et al., 2002; Thompson and Hamer, 2000). Information has also been collected on the physiological responses of marine mammals to exposure to anthropogenic sounds (Fair and Becker, 2000; Romano et al., 2002; Wright et al., 2008). For example, Rolland et al. (2012) found that noise reduction from reduced ship traffic in the Bay of Fundy was associated with decreased stress in North Atlantic right whales. In a conceptual model developed by the Population Consequences of Disturbance (PCoD) working group, serum hormones were identified as possible indicators of behavioral effects that are translated into altered rates of reproduction and mortality. The Office of Naval Research hosted a workshop (Effects of Stress on Marine Mammals Exposed to Sound) in 2009 that focused on this very topic (ONR, 2009).

Studies of other marine animals and terrestrial animals would also lead us to expect some marine mammals to experience physiological stress responses and, perhaps, physiological responses that would be classified as “distress” upon exposure to high-frequency, mid-frequency and low-frequency sounds. For example, Jansen (1998) reported on the relationship between acoustic exposures and physiological responses that are indicative of stress responses in humans (for example, elevated respiration and increased heart rates). Jones (1998) reported on reductions in human performance when faced with acute, repetitive exposures to acoustic disturbance. Trimper et al. (1998) reported on the physiological stress responses of osprey to low-level aircraft noise while Krausman et al. (2004) reported on the auditory and physiology stress responses of endangered Sonoran pronghorn to military overflights. Smith et al. (2004a, 2004b), for example, identified noise-induced physiological transient stress responses in hearing-specialist fish (i.e., goldfish) that accompanied short- and long-term hearing losses. Welch and Welch (1970) reported physiological and behavioral stress responses that accompanied damage to the inner ears of fish and several mammals.

Hearing is one of the primary senses marine mammals use to gather information about their environment and to communicate with conspecifics. Although empirical information on the effects of sensory impairment (TTS, PTS, and acoustic masking) on marine mammals remains limited, it seems reasonable to assume that reducing an animal's ability to gather information about its environment and to communicate with other members of its species would be stressful for animals that use hearing as their primary sensory mechanism. Therefore, we assume that acoustic exposures sufficient to trigger onset PTS or TTS would be accompanied by physiological stress responses because terrestrial animals exhibit those responses under similar conditions (NRC, 2003). More importantly, marine mammals might experience stress responses at received levels lower than those necessary to trigger onset TTS. Based on empirical studies of the time required to recover from stress responses (Moberg, 2000), we also assume that stress responses are likely to persist beyond the time interval required for animals to recover from TTS and might result in pathological and pre-pathological states that would be as significant as behavioral responses to TTS.

Behavioral Disturbance

Behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context-specific (Ellison et al., 2012). Many variables can influence an animal's perception of and response to (nature and magnitude) an acoustic event. An animal's prior experience with a sound or sound source affects whether it is less likely (habituation) or more likely (sensitization) to respond to certain sounds in the future (animals can also be innately pre-disposed to respond to certain sounds in certain ways) (Southall et al., 2007). Related to the sound itself, the perceived nearness of the sound, bearing of the sound (approaching vs. retreating), similarity of a sound to biologically relevant sounds in the animal's environment (i.e., calls of predators, prey, or conspecifics), and familiarity of the sound may affect the way an animal responds to the sound (Southall et al., 2007). Individuals (of different age, gender, reproductive status, etc.) among most populations will have variable hearing capabilities, and differing behavioral sensitivities to sounds that will be affected by prior conditioning, experience, and current activities of those individuals. Often, specific acoustic features of the sound and contextual variables (i.e., proximity, duration, or recurrence of the sound or the current behavior that the marine mammal is engaged in or its prior experience), as well as entirely separate factors such as the physical presence of a nearby vessel, may be more relevant to the animal's response than the received level alone.

Exposure of marine mammals to sound sources can result in no response or responses including: Increased alertness; orientation or attraction to a sound source; vocal modifications; cessation of feeding; cessation of social interaction; alteration of movement or diving behavior; habitat abandonment (temporary or permanent); and, in severe cases, panic, flight, stampede, or stranding, potentially resulting in death (Southall et al., 2007). A review of marine mammal responses to anthropogenic sound was first conducted by Richardson and others in 1995. A more recent review (Nowacek et al., 2007) addresses studies conducted since 1995 and focuses on observations where the received sound level of the exposed marine mammal(s) was known or could be estimated. The following sub-sections provide examples of behavioral responses that provide an idea of the variability in behavioral responses that would be expected given the differential sensitivities of marine mammal species to sound and the wide range of potential acoustic sources to which a marine mammal may be exposed. Estimates of the types of behavioral responses that could occur for a given sound exposure should be determined from the literature that is available for each species or extrapolated from closely related species when no information exists.

Flight Response—A flight response is a dramatic change in normal movement to a directed and rapid movement away from the perceived location of a sound source. Relatively little information on flight responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic signals exist (e.g., Ford Start Printed Page 15402and Reeves, 2008), although observations of flight responses to the presence of predators have occurred (Connor and Heithaus, 1996). Flight responses have been speculated as being a component of marine mammal strandings associated with sonar activities (Evans and England, 2001).

Response to Predator—Evidence suggests that at least some marine mammals have the ability to acoustically identify potential predators. For example, harbor seals that reside in the coastal waters off British Columbia are frequently targeted by certain groups of killer whales, but not others. The seals discriminate between the calls of threatening and non-threatening killer whales (Deecke et al., 2002), a capability that should increase survivorship while reducing the energy required for attending to and responding to all killer whale calls. The occurrence of masking or hearing impairment provides a means by which marine mammals may be prevented from responding to the acoustic cues produced by their predators. Whether or not this is a possibility depends on the duration of the masking/hearing impairment and the likelihood of encountering a predator during the time that predator cues are impeded.

Diving—Changes in dive behavior can vary widely. They may consist of increased or decreased dive times and surface intervals as well as changes in the rates of ascent and descent during a dive. Variations in dive behavior may reflect interruptions in biologically significant activities (e.g., foraging) or they may be of little biological significance. Variations in dive behavior may also expose an animal to potentially harmful conditions (e.g., increasing the chance of ship-strike) or may serve as an avoidance response that enhances survivorship. The impact of a variation in diving resulting from an acoustic exposure depends on what the animal is doing at the time of the exposure and the type and magnitude of the response.

Nowacek et al. (2004) reported disruptions of dive behaviors in foraging North Atlantic right whales when exposed to an alerting stimulus, an action, they noted, that could lead to an increased likelihood of ship strike. However, the whales did not respond to playbacks of either right whale social sounds or vessel noise, highlighting the importance of the sound characteristics in producing a behavioral reaction. Conversely, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins have been observed to dive for longer periods of time in areas where vessels were present and/or approaching (Ng and Leung, 2003). In both of these studies, the influence of the sound exposure cannot be decoupled from the physical presence of a surface vessel, thus complicating interpretations of the relative contribution of each stimulus to the response. Indeed, the presence of surface vessels, their approach, and speed of approach, seemed to be significant factors in the response of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Ng and Leung, 2003). Low-frequency signals of the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) sound source were not found to affect dive times of humpback whales in Hawaiian waters (Frankel and Clark, 2000) or to overtly affect elephant seal dives (Costa et al., 2003). They did, however, produce subtle effects that varied in direction and degree among the individual seals, illustrating the equivocal nature of behavioral effects and consequent difficulty in defining and predicting them.

Due to past incidents of beaked whale strandings associated with sonar operations, feedback paths are provided between avoidance and diving and indirect tissue effects. This feedback accounts for the hypothesis that variations in diving behavior and/or avoidance responses can possibly result in nitrogen tissue supersaturation and nitrogen off-gassing, possibly to the point of deleterious vascular bubble formation (Jepson et al., 2003). Although hypothetical, discussions surrounding this potential process are controversial.

Foraging—Disruption of feeding behavior can be difficult to correlate with anthropogenic sound exposure, so it is usually inferred by observed displacement from known foraging areas, the appearance of secondary indicators (e.g., bubble nets or sediment plumes), or changes in dive behavior. Noise from seismic surveys was not found to impact the feeding behavior in western grey whales off the coast of Russia (Yazvenko et al., 2007) and sperm whales engaged in foraging dives did not abandon dives when exposed to distant signatures of seismic airguns (Madsen et al., 2006). However, Miller et al. (2009) reported buzz rates (a proxy for feeding) 19 percent lower during exposure to distant signatures of seismic airguns. Balaenopterid whales exposed to moderate low-frequency signals similar to the ATOC sound source demonstrated no variation in foraging activity (Croll et al., 2001), whereas five out of six North Atlantic right whales exposed to an acoustic alarm interrupted their foraging dives (Nowacek et al., 2004). Although the received sound pressure levels were similar in the latter two studies, the frequency, duration, and temporal pattern of signal presentation were different. These factors, as well as differences in species sensitivity, are likely contributing factors to the differential response. A determination of whether foraging disruptions incur fitness consequences will require information on or estimates of the energetic requirements of the individuals and the relationship between prey availability, foraging effort and success, and the life history stage of the animal. Goldbogen et al., (2013) monitored behavioral responses of tagged blue whales located in feeding areas when exposed simulated MFA sonar. Responses varied depending on behavioral context, with deep feeding whales being more significantly affected (i.e., generalized avoidance; cessation of feeding; increased swimming speeds; or directed travel away from the source) compared to surface feeding individuals that typically showed no change in behavior. Non-feeding whales also seemed to be affected by exposure. The authors indicate that disruption of feeding and displacement could impact individual fitness and health.

Breathing—Variations in respiration naturally fluctuate with different behaviors and variations in respiration rate as a function of acoustic exposure can be expected to co-occur with other behavioral reactions, such as a flight response or an alteration in diving. However, respiration rates in and of themselves may represent annoyance or an acute stress response. Mean exhalation rates of gray whales at rest and while diving were found to be unaffected by seismic surveys conducted adjacent to the whale feeding grounds (Gailey et al., 2007). Studies with captive harbor porpoises showed increased respiration rates upon introduction of acoustic alarms (Kastelein et al., 2001; Kastelein et al., 2006a) and emissions for underwater data transmission (Kastelein et al., 2005). However, exposure of the same acoustic alarm to a striped dolphin under the same conditions did not elicit a response (Kastelein et al., 2006a), again highlighting the importance in understanding species differences in the tolerance of underwater noise when determining the potential for impacts resulting from anthropogenic sound exposure.

Social relationships—Social interactions between mammals can be affected by noise via the disruption of communication signals or by the displacement of individuals. Disruption of social relationships therefore depends on the disruption of other behaviors Start Printed Page 15403(e.g., caused avoidance, masking, etc.), and no specific overview is provided here. However, social disruptions must be considered in context of the relationships that are affected. Long-term disruptions of mother/calf pairs or mating displays have the potential to affect the growth and survival or reproductive effort/success of individuals, respectively.

Vocalizations (also see Masking Section)—Vocal changes in response to anthropogenic noise can occur across the repertoire of sound production modes used by marine mammals, such as whistling, echolocation click production, calling, and singing. Changes may result in response to a need to compete with an increase in background noise or may reflect an increased vigilance or startle response. For example, in the presence of low-frequency active sonar, humpback whales have been observed to increase the length of their “songs” (Miller et al., 2000; Fristrup et al., 2003), possibly due to the overlap in frequencies between the whale song and the low-frequency active sonar. A similar compensatory effect for the presence of low-frequency vessel noise has been suggested for right whales; right whales have been observed to shift the frequency content of their calls upward while reducing the rate of calling in areas of increased anthropogenic noise (Parks et al., 2007). Killer whales off the northwestern coast of the U.S. have been observed to increase the duration of primary calls once a threshold in observing vessel density (e.g., whale watching) was reached, which has been suggested as a response to increased masking noise produced by the vessels (Foote et al., 2004). In contrast, both sperm and pilot whales potentially ceased sound production during the Heard Island feasibility test (Bowles et al., 1994), although it cannot be absolutely determined whether the inability to acoustically detect the animals was due to the cessation of sound production or the displacement of animals from the area.

Avoidance—Avoidance is the displacement of an individual from an area as a result of the presence of a sound. Richardson et al., (1995) noted that avoidance reactions are the most obvious manifestations of disturbance in marine mammals. It is qualitatively different from the flight response, but also differs in the magnitude of the response (i.e., directed movement, rate of travel, etc.). Oftentimes avoidance is temporary, and animals return to the area once the noise has ceased. Longer term displacement is possible, however, which can lead to changes in abundance or distribution patterns of the species in the affected region if they do not become acclimated to the presence of the sound (Blackwell et al., 2004; Bejder et al., 2006; Teilmann et al., 2006). Acute avoidance responses have been observed in captive porpoises and pinnipeds exposed to a number of different sound sources (Kastelein et al., 2001; Finneran et al., 2003; Kastelein et al., 2006a; Kastelein et al., 2006b). Short-term avoidance of seismic surveys, low frequency emissions, and acoustic deterrents have also been noted in wild populations of odontocetes (Bowles et al., 1994; Goold, 1996; 1998; Stone et al., 2000; Morton and Symonds, 2002) and to some extent in mysticetes (Gailey et al., 2007), while longer term or repetitive/chronic displacement for some dolphin groups and for manatees has been suggested to be due to the presence of chronic vessel noise (Haviland-Howell et al., 2007; Miksis-Olds et al., 2007).

Maybaum (1993) conducted sound playback experiments to assess the effects of MFAS on humpback whales in Hawaiian waters. Specifically, she exposed focal pods to sounds of a 3.3-kHz sonar pulse, a sonar frequency sweep from 3.1 to 3.6 kHz, and a control (blank) tape while monitoring behavior, movement, and underwater vocalizations. The two types of sonar signals (which both contained mid- and low-frequency components) differed in their effects on the humpback whales, but both resulted in avoidance behavior. The whales responded to the pulse by increasing their distance from the sound source and responded to the frequency sweep by increasing their swimming speeds and track linearity. In the Caribbean, sperm whales avoided exposure to mid-frequency submarine sonar pulses, in the range of 1000 Hz to 10,000 Hz (IWC 2005).

Kvadsheim et al., (2007) conducted a controlled exposure experiment in which killer whales fitted with D-tags were exposed to mid-frequency active sonar (Source A: a 1.0 second upsweep 209 dB @ 1-2 kHz every 10 seconds for 10 minutes; Source B: with a 1.0 second upsweep 197 dB @ 6-7 kHz every 10 seconds for 10 minutes). When exposed to Source A, a tagged whale and the group it was traveling with did not appear to avoid the source. When exposed to Source B, the tagged whales along with other whales that had been carousel feeding, ceased feeding during the approach of the sonar and moved rapidly away from the source. When exposed to Source B, Kvadsheim and his co-workers reported that a tagged killer whale seemed to try to avoid further exposure to the sound field by the following behaviors: Immediately swimming away (horizontally) from the source of the sound; engaging in a series of erratic and frequently deep dives that seemed to take it below the sound field; or swimming away while engaged in a series of erratic and frequently deep dives. Although the sample sizes in this study are too small to support statistical analysis, the behavioral responses of the orcas were consistent with the results of other studies.

In 2007, the first in a series of behavioral response studies, a collaboration by the Navy, NMFS, and other scientists showed one beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) responding to an MFAS playback. Tyack et al. (2011) indicates that the playback began when the tagged beaked whale was vocalizing at depth (at the deepest part of a typical feeding dive), following a previous control with no sound exposure. The whale appeared to stop clicking significantly earlier than usual, when exposed to mid-frequency signals in the 130-140 dB (rms) received level range. After a few more minutes of the playback, when the received level reached a maximum of 140-150 dB, the whale ascended on the slow side of normal ascent rates with a longer than normal ascent, at which point the exposure was terminated. The results are from a single experiment and a greater sample size is needed before robust and definitive conclusions can be drawn.

Tyack et al. (2011) also indicates that Blainville's beaked whales appear to be sensitive to noise at levels well below expected TTS (~160 dB re1μPa). This sensitivity is manifest by an adaptive movement away from a sound source. This response was observed irrespective of whether the signal transmitted was within the band width of MFAS, which suggests that beaked whales may not respond to the specific sound signatures. Instead, they may be sensitive to any pulsed sound from a point source in this frequency range. The response to such stimuli appears to involve maximizing the distance from the sound source.

Results from a 2007-2008 study conducted near the Bahamas showed a change in diving behavior of an adult Blainville's beaked whale to playback of mid-frequency source and predator sounds (Boyd et al., 2008; Tyack et al., 2011). Reaction to mid-frequency sounds included premature cessation of clicking and termination of a foraging dive, and a slower ascent rate to the surface. Preliminary results from a similar behavioral response study in southern California waters have been presented for the 2010-2011 field Start Printed Page 15404season (Southall et al. 2011). Cuvier's beaked whale responses suggested particular sensitivity to sound exposure as consistent with results for Blainville's beaked whale. Similarly, beaked whales exposed to sonar during British training exercises stopped foraging (DSTL 2007), and preliminary results of controlled playback of sonar may indicate feeding/foraging disruption of killer whales and sperm whales (Miller et al. 2011). However, studies like DeRuiter et al. (2013) highlight the importance of context in predicting behavioral responses of marine mammals to active acoustics. DeRuiter observed that beaked whales exposed to playbacks of U.S. tactical mid-frequency sonar from 89 to 127 dB at close distances responded notably (i.e., altered dive patterns), while individuals did not behaviorally respond when exposed to similar received levels from actual U.S. tactical mid-frequency sonar operated at much further distances.

Orientation—A shift in an animal's resting state or an attentional change via an orienting response represent behaviors that would be considered mild disruptions if occurring alone. As previously mentioned, the responses may co-occur with other behaviors; for instance, an animal may initially orient toward a sound source, and then move away from it. Thus, any orienting response should be considered in context of other reactions that may occur.

There are few empirical studies of avoidance responses of free-living cetaceans to MFAS. Much more information is available on the avoidance responses of free-living cetaceans to other acoustic sources, such as seismic airguns and low-frequency tactical sonar, than MFAS.

Behavioral Responses

Southall et al. (2007) reports the results of the efforts of a panel of experts in acoustic research from behavioral, physiological, and physical disciplines that convened and reviewed the available literature on marine mammal hearing and physiological and behavioral responses to human-made sound with the goal of proposing exposure criteria for certain effects. This peer-reviewed compilation of literature is very valuable, though Southall et al. (2007) note that not all data are equal, some have poor statistical power, insufficient controls, and/or limited information on received levels, background noise, and other potentially important contextual variables—such data were reviewed and sometimes used for qualitative illustration, but were not included in the quantitative analysis for the criteria recommendations. All of the studies considered, however, contain an estimate of the received sound level when the animal exhibited the indicated response.

In the Southall et al. (2007) publication, for the purposes of analyzing responses of marine mammals to anthropogenic sound and developing criteria, the authors differentiate between single pulse sounds, multiple pulse sounds, and non-pulse sounds. MFAS/HFAS sonar is considered a non-pulse sound. Southall et al. (2007) summarize the studies associated with low-frequency, mid-frequency, and high-frequency cetacean responses to non-pulse sounds, based strictly on received level, in Appendix C of their article (incorporated by reference and summarized in the three paragraphs below).

The studies that address responses of low-frequency cetaceans to non-pulse sounds include data gathered in the field and related to several types of sound sources (of varying similarity to MFAS/HFAS) including: vessel noise, drilling and machinery playback, low-frequency M-sequences (sine wave with multiple phase reversals) playback, tactical low-frequency active sonar playback, drill ships, Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) source, and non-pulse playbacks. These studies generally indicate no (or very limited) responses to received levels in the 90 to 120 dB re: 1 μPa range and an increasing likelihood of avoidance and other behavioral effects in the 120 to 160 dB range. As mentioned earlier, though, contextual variables play a very important role in the reported responses and the severity of effects are not linear when compared to received level. Also, few of the laboratory or field datasets had common conditions, behavioral contexts or sound sources, so it is not surprising that responses differ.

The studies that address responses of mid-frequency cetaceans to non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the laboratory and related to several different sound sources (of varying similarity to MFAS/HFAS) including: pingers, drilling playbacks, ship and ice-breaking noise, vessel noise, Acoustic Harassment Devices (AHDs), Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs), MFAS, and non-pulse bands and tones. Southall et al. (2007) were unable to come to a clear conclusion regarding the results of these studies. In some cases, animals in the field showed significant responses to received levels between 90 and 120 dB, while in other cases these responses were not seen in the 120 to 150 dB range. The disparity in results was likely due to contextual variation and the differences between the results in the field and laboratory data (animals typically responded at lower levels in the field).

The studies that address responses of high-frequency cetaceans to non-pulse sounds include data gathered both in the field and the laboratory and related to several different sound sources (of varying similarity to MFAS/HFAS) including: pingers, AHDs, and various laboratory non-pulse sounds. All of these data were collected from harbor porpoises. Southall et al. (2007) concluded that the existing data indicate that harbor porpoises are likely sensitive to a wide range of anthropogenic sounds at low received levels (~ 90 to 120 dB), at least for initial exposures. All recorded exposures above 140 dB induced profound and sustained avoidance behavior in wild harbor porpoises (Southall et al., 2007). Rapid habituation was noted in some but not all studies. There is no data to indicate whether other high frequency cetaceans are as sensitive to anthropogenic sound as harbor porpoises.

In addition to summarizing the available data, the authors of Southall et al. (2007) developed a severity scaling system with the intent of ultimately being able to assign some level of biological significance to a response. Following is a summary of their scoring system; a comprehensive list of the behaviors associated with each score, along with the assigned scores, may be found in the report:

  • 0-3 (Minor and/or brief behaviors) includes, but is not limited to: No response; minor changes in speed or locomotion (but with no avoidance); individual alert behavior; minor cessation in vocal behavior; minor changes in response to trained behaviors (in laboratory)
  • 4-6 (Behaviors with higher potential to affect foraging, reproduction, or survival) includes, but is not limited to: Moderate changes in speed, direction, or dive profile; brief shift in group distribution; prolonged cessation or modification of vocal behavior (duration > duration of sound), minor or moderate individual and/or group avoidance of sound; brief cessation of reproductive behavior; or refusal to initiate trained tasks (in laboratory)
  • 7-9 (Behaviors considered likely to affect the aforementioned vital rates) includes, but is not limited to: Extensive or prolonged aggressive behavior; moderate, prolonged or significant separation of females and dependent offspring with disruption Start Printed Page 15405of acoustic reunion mechanisms; long-term avoidance of an area; outright panic, stampede, stranding; threatening or attacking sound source (in laboratory)

Potential Effects of Behavioral Disturbance

The different ways that marine mammals respond to sound are sometimes indicators of the ultimate effect that exposure to a given stimulus will have on the well-being (survival, reproduction, etc.) of an animal. There is little marine mammal data quantitatively relating the exposure of marine mammals to sound to effects on reproduction or survival, though data exists for terrestrial species to which we can draw comparisons for marine mammals. One study related to marine mammals was published by Claridge as a Ph.D. thesis (Claridge, 2013). Claridge investigated the potential effects exposure to mid-frequency active sonar could have on beaked whale demographics. In summary, Claridge suggested that lower reproductive rates observed at the Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), when compared to a control site, were due to stressors associated with frequent and repeated use of Navy sonar. However, the author noted that there may be other unknown differences between the sites. It is also important to note that there were some relevant shortcomings of this study. For example, all of the re-sighted whales during the 5-year study at both sites were female, which Claridge acknowledged can lead to a negative bias in the abundance estimation. There was also a reduced effort and shorter overall study period at the AUTEC site that failed to capture some of the emigration/immigration trends identified at the control site. Furthermore, Claridge assumed that the two sites were identical and therefore should have equal potential abundances; when in reality, there were notable physical differences.

Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of an animal's environment while ignoring other things (Posner, 1994). Because animals (including humans) have limited cognitive resources, there is a limit to how much sensory information they can process at any time. The phenomenon called “attentional capture” occurs when a stimulus (usually a stimulus that an animal is not concentrating on or attending to) “captures” an animal's attention. This shift in attention can occur consciously or subconsciously (for example, when an animal hears sounds that it associates with the approach of a predator) and the shift in attention can be sudden (Dukas, 2002; van Rij, 2007). Once a stimulus has captured an animal's attention, the animal can respond by ignoring the stimulus, assuming a “watch and wait” posture, or treat the stimulus as a disturbance and respond accordingly, which includes scanning for the source of the stimulus or “vigilance” (Cowlishaw et al., 2004).

Vigilance is normally an adaptive behavior that helps animals determine the presence or absence of predators, assess their distance from conspecifics, or to attend cues from prey (Bednekoff and Lima, 1998; Treves, 2000). Despite those benefits, however, vigilance has a cost of time; when animals focus their attention on specific environmental cues, they are not attending to other activities such as foraging. These costs have been documented best in foraging animals, where vigilance has been shown to substantially reduce feeding rates (Saino, 1994; Beauchamp and Livoreil, 1997; Fritz et al., 2002). Animals will spend more time being vigilant, which may translate to less time foraging or resting, when disturbance stimuli approach them more directly, remain at closer distances, have a greater group size (for example, multiple surface vessels), or when they co-occur with times that an animal perceives increased risk (for example, when they are giving birth or accompanied by a calf). Most of the published literature, however, suggests that direct approaches will increase the amount of time animals will dedicate to being vigilant. For example, bighorn sheep and Dall's sheep dedicated more time being vigilant, and less time resting or foraging, when aircraft made direct approaches over them (Frid, 2001; Stockwell et al., 1991).

Several authors have established that long-term and intense disturbance stimuli can cause population declines by reducing the body condition of individuals that have been disturbed, followed by reduced reproductive success, reduced survival, or both (Daan et al., 1996; Madsen, 1994; White, 1983). For example, Madsen (1994) reported that pink-footed geese in undisturbed habitat gained body mass and had about a 46-percent reproductive success rate compared with geese in disturbed habitat (being consistently scared off the fields on which they were foraging) which did not gain mass and had a 17-percent reproductive success rate. Similar reductions in reproductive success have been reported for mule deer disturbed by all-terrain vehicles (Yarmoloy et al., 1988), caribou disturbed by seismic exploration blasts (Bradshaw et al., 1998), caribou disturbed by low-elevation military jet-fights (Luick et al., 1996), and caribou disturbed by low-elevation jet flights (Harrington and Veitch, 1992). Similarly, a study of elk that were disturbed experimentally by pedestrians concluded that the ratio of young to mothers was inversely related to disturbance rate (Phillips and Alldredge, 2000).

The primary mechanism by which increased vigilance and disturbance appear to affect the fitness of individual animals is by disrupting an animal's time budget and, as a result, reducing the time they might spend foraging and resting (which increases an animal's activity rate and energy demand). For example, a study of grizzly bears reported that bears disturbed by hikers reduced their energy intake by an average of 12 kcal/minute (50.2 x 103 kJ/minute), and spent energy fleeing or acting aggressively toward hikers (White et al. 1999). Alternately, Ridgway et al. (2006) reported that increased vigilance in bottlenose dolphins exposed to sound over a 5-day period did not cause any sleep deprivation or stress effects such as changes in cortisol or epinephrine levels.

On a related note, many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, traveling, and socializing, on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Substantive 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). Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than 1 day and not recurring on subsequent days is not considered particularly severe unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et al., 2007).

In response to the National Research Council of the National Academies (2005) review, the Office of Naval Research founded a working group to formalize the Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance (PCAD) framework. The PCAD model connects observable data through a series of transfer functions using a case study approach. The long-term goal is to improve the understanding of how effects of sound on marine mammals transfer between behavior and life functions and between life functions and vital rates of individuals. Then, this understanding of how disturbance can affect the vital rates of individuals will facilitate the further assessment of the population level effects of Start Printed Page 15406anthropogenic sound on marine mammals by providing a quantitative approach to evaluate effects and the relationship between takes and possible changes to adult survival and/or annual recruitment. For example, New et al. (2013) uses energetic models to investigate the survival and reproduction of beaked whales. The model suggests that impacts to habitat quality may affect adult female beaked whales' ability to reproduce; and therefore, a reduction in energy intake over a long period of time may have the potential to impact reproduction. However, areas such as the Navy's Southern-California Range Complex continue to support high densities of beaked whales and there are no data to suggest a decline in the population.

Stranding and Mortality

When a live or dead marine mammal swims or floats onto shore and becomes “beached” or incapable of returning to sea, the event is termed a “stranding” (Geraci et al., 1999; Perrin and Geraci, 2002; Geraci and Lounsbury, 2005; NMFS, 2007). The legal definition for a stranding within the U.S. is that (A) “a marine mammal is dead and is (i) on a beach or shore of the United States; or (ii) in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States (including any navigable waters); or (B) a marine mammal is alive and is (i) on a beach or shore of the United States and unable to return to the water; (ii) on a beach or shore of the United States and, although able to return to the water, is in need of apparent medical attention; or (iii) in the waters under the jurisdiction of the United States (including any navigable waters), but is unable to return to its natural habitat under its own power or without assistance” (16 U.S.C. 1421h).

Marine mammals are known to strand for a variety of reasons, such as infectious agents, biotoxicosis, starvation, fishery interaction, ship strike, unusual oceanographic or weather events, sound exposure, or combinations of these stressors sustained concurrently or in series. However, the cause or causes of most strandings are unknown (Geraci et al., 1976; Eaton, 1979, Odell et al., 1980; Best, 1982). Numerous studies suggest that the physiology, behavior, habitat relationships, age, or condition of cetaceans may cause them to strand or might pre-dispose them to strand when exposed to another phenomenon. These suggestions are consistent with the conclusions of numerous other studies that have demonstrated that combinations of dissimilar stressors commonly combine to kill an animal or dramatically reduce its fitness, even though one exposure without the other does not produce the same result (Chroussos, 2000; Creel, 2005; DeVries et al., 2003; Fair and Becker, 2000; Foley et al., 2001; Moberg, 2000; Relyea, 2005a; 2005b, Romero, 2004; Sih et al., 2004). For reference, between 2001 and 2009, there was an annual average of 1,400 cetacean strandings and 4,300 pinniped strandings along the coasts of the continental U.S. and Alaska (NMFS, 2011).

Several sources have published lists of mass stranding events of cetaceans in an attempt to identify relationships between those stranding events and military sonar (Hildebrand, 2004; IWC, 2005; Taylor et al., 2004). For example, based on a review of stranding records between 1960 and 1995, the International Whaling Commission (2005) identified ten mass stranding events of Cuvier's beaked whales had been reported and one mass stranding of four Baird's beaked whale. The IWC concluded that, out of eight stranding events reported from the mid-1980s to the summer of 2003, seven had been coincident with the use of tactical mid-frequency sonar, one of those seven had been associated with the use of tactical low-frequency sonar, and the remaining stranding event had been associated with the use of seismic airguns.

Most of the stranding events reviewed by the International Whaling Commission involved beaked whales. A mass stranding of Cuvier's beaked whales in the eastern Mediterranean Sea occurred in 1996 (Frantzis, 1998) and mass stranding events involving Gervais' beaked whales, Blainville's beaked whales, and Cuvier's beaked whales occurred off the coast of the Canary Islands in the late 1980s (Simmonds and Lopez-Jurado, 1991). The stranding events that occurred in the Canary Islands and Kyparissiakos Gulf in the late 1990s and the Bahamas in 2000 have been the most intensively-studied mass stranding events and have been associated with naval maneuvers involving the use of tactical sonar.

Between 1960 and 2006, 48 strandings (68 percent) involved beaked whales, three (4 percent) involved dolphins, and 14 (20 percent) involved whale species. Cuvier's beaked whales were involved in the greatest number of these events (48 or 68 percent), followed by sperm whales (seven or 10 percent), and Blainville's and Gervais' beaked whales (four each or 6 percent). Naval activities (not just activities conducted by the U.S. Navy) that might have involved active sonar are reported to have coincided with nine or 10 (13 to 14 percent) of those stranding events. Between the mid-1980s and 2003 (the period reported by the International Whaling Commission), we identified reports of 44 mass cetacean stranding events, of which at least seven were coincident with naval exercises that were using MFAS.

Strandings Associated With Impulse Sound

During a Navy training event on March 4, 2011 at the Silver Strand Training Complex in San Diego, California, three or possibly four dolphins were killed in an explosion. During an underwater detonation training event, a pod of 100 to 150 long-beaked common dolphins were observed moving towards the 700-yd (640.1-m) exclusion zone around the explosive charge, monitored by personnel in a safety boat and participants in a dive boat. Approximately 5 minutes remained on a time-delay fuse connected to a single 8.76 lb (3.97 kg) explosive charge (C-4 and detonation cord). Although the dive boat was placed between the pod and the explosive in an effort to guide the dolphins away from the area, that effort was unsuccessful and three long-beaked common dolphins near the explosion died. In addition to the three dolphins found dead on March 4, the remains of a fourth dolphin were discovered on March 7, 2011 near Ocean Beach, California (3 days later and approximately 11.8 mi. [19 km] from Silver Strand where the training event occurred), which might also have been related to this event. Association of the fourth stranding with the training event is uncertain because dolphins strand on a regular basis in the San Diego area. Details such as the dolphins' depth and distance from the explosive at the time of the detonation could not be estimated from the 250 yd (228.6 m) standoff point of the observers in the dive boat or the safety boat.

These dolphin mortalities are the only known occurrence of a U.S. Navy training or testing event involving impulse energy (underwater detonation) that caused mortality or injury to a marine mammal. Despite this being a rare occurrence, the Navy has reviewed training requirements, safety procedures, and possible mitigation measures and implemented changes to reduce the potential for this to occur in the future. Discussions of procedures associated with these and other training and testing events are presented in the Mitigation section of this document.

Strandings Associated With MFAS

Over the past 16 years, there have been five stranding events coincident with military mid-frequency sonar use Start Printed Page 15407in which exposure to sonar is believed to have been a contributing factor: Greece (1996); the Bahamas (2000); Madeira (2000); Canary Islands (2002); and Spain (2006). Additionally, in 2004, during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises, between 150 and 200 usually pelagic melon-headed whales occupied the shallow waters of Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii for over 28 hours. NMFS determined that MFAS was a plausible, if not likely, contributing factor in what may have been a confluence of events that led to the stranding. A number of other stranding events coincident with the operation of mid-frequency sonar, including the death of beaked whales or other species (minke whales, dwarf sperm whales, pilot whales), have been reported; however, the majority have not been investigated to the degree necessary to determine the cause of the stranding and only one of these stranding events, the Bahamas (2000), was associated with exercises conducted by the U.S. Navy. Most recently, the Independent Scientific Review Panel investigating potential contributing factors to a 2008 mass stranding of melon-headed whales in Antsohihy, Madagascar released its final report suggesting that the stranding was likely initially triggered by an industry seismic survey. This report suggests that the operation of a commercial high-powered 12 kHz multi-beam echosounder during an industry seismic survey was a plausible and likely initial trigger that caused a large group of melon-headed whales to leave their typical habitat and then ultimately strand as a result of secondary factors such as malnourishment and dehydration. The report indicates that the risk of this particular convergence of factors and ultimate outcome is likely very low, but recommends that the potential be considered in environmental planning. Because of the association between tactical mid-frequency active sonar use and a small number of marine mammal strandings, the Navy and NMFS have been considering and addressing the potential for strandings in association with Navy activities for years. In addition to a suite of mitigation intended to more broadly minimize impacts to marine mammals, the Navy and NMFS have a detailed Stranding Response Plan that outlines reporting, communication, and response protocols intended both to minimize the impacts of, and enhance the analysis of, any potential stranding in areas where the Navy operates.

Greece (1996)—Twelve Cuvier's beaked whales stranded atypically (in both time and space) along a 38.2-km strand of the Kyparissiakos Gulf coast on May 12 and 13, 1996 (Frantzis, 1998). From May 11 through May 15, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) research vessel Alliance was conducting sonar tests with signals of 600 Hz and 3 kHz and source levels of 228 and 226 dB re: 1μPa, respectively (D'Amico and Verboom, 1998; D'Spain et al., 2006). The timing and location of the testing encompassed the time and location of the strandings (Frantzis, 1998).

Necropsies of eight of the animals were performed, but were limited to basic external examination and sampling of stomach contents, blood, and skin. No ears or organs were collected, and no histological samples were preserved. No apparent abnormalities or wounds were found. Examination of photos of the animals, taken soon after their death, revealed that the eyes of at least four of the individuals were bleeding. Photos were taken soon after their death (Frantzis, 2004). Stomach contents contained the flesh of cephalopods, indicating that feeding had recently taken place (Frantzis, 1998).

All available information regarding the conditions associated with this stranding event were compiled, and many potential causes were examined including major pollution events, prominent tectonic activity, unusual physical or meteorological events, magnetic anomalies, epizootics, and conventional military activities (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, 2005a). However, none of these potential causes coincided in time or space with the mass stranding, or could explain its characteristics (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, 2005a). The robust condition of the animals, plus the recent stomach contents, is inconsistent with pathogenic causes. In addition, environmental causes can be ruled out as there were no unusual environmental circumstances or events before or during this time period and within the general proximity (Frantzis, 2004).

Because of the rarity of this mass stranding of Cuvier's beaked whales in the Kyparissiakos Gulf (first one in history), the probability for the two events (the military exercises and the strandings) to coincide in time and location, while being independent of each other, was thought to be extremely low (Frantzis, 1998). However, because full necropsies had not been conducted, and no abnormalities were noted, the cause of the strandings could not be precisely determined (Cox et al., 2006). A Bioacoustics Panel convened by NATO concluded that the evidence available did not allow them to accept or reject sonar exposures as a causal agent in these stranding events. The analysis of this stranding event provided support for, but no clear evidence for, the cause-and-effect relationship of tactical sonar training activities and beaked whale strandings (Cox et al., 2006).

Bahamas (2000)—NMFS and the Navy prepared a joint report addressing the multi-species stranding in the Bahamas in 2000, which took place within 24 hours of U.S. Navy ships using MFAS as they passed through the Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels on March 15-16, 2000. The ships, which operated both AN/SQS-53C and AN/SQS-56, moved through the channel while emitting sonar pings approximately every 24 seconds. Of the 17 cetaceans that stranded over a 36-hr period (Cuvier's beaked whales, Blainville's beaked whales, minke whales, and a spotted dolphin), seven animals died on the beach (five Cuvier's beaked whales, one Blainville's beaked whale, and the spotted dolphin), while the other 10 were returned to the water alive (though their ultimate fate is unknown). As discussed in the Bahamas report (DOC/DON, 2001), there is no likely association between the minke whale and spotted dolphin strandings and the operation of MFAS.

Necropsies were performed on five of the stranded beaked whales. All five necropsied beaked whales were in good body condition, showing no signs of infection, disease, ship strike, blunt trauma, or fishery related injuries, and three still had food remains in their stomachs. Auditory structural damage was discovered in four of the whales, specifically bloody effusions or hemorrhaging around the ears. Bilateral intracochlear and unilateral temporal region subarachnoid hemorrhage, with blood clots in the lateral ventricles, were found in two of the whales. Three of the whales had small hemorrhages in their acoustic fats (located along the jaw and in the melon).

A comprehensive investigation was conducted and all possible causes of the stranding event were considered, whether they seemed likely at the outset or not. Based on the way in which the strandings coincided with ongoing naval activity involving tactical MFAS use, in terms of both time and geography, the nature of the physiological effects experienced by the dead animals, and the absence of any other acoustic sources, the investigation team concluded that MFAS aboard U.S. Navy ships that were in use during the active sonar exercise in question were Start Printed Page 15408the most plausible source of this acoustic or impulse trauma to beaked whales. This sound source was active in a complex environment that included the presence of a surface duct, unusual and steep bathymetry, a constricted channel with limited egress, intensive use of multiple, active sonar units over an extended period of time, and the presence of beaked whales that appear to be sensitive to the frequencies produced by these active sonars. The investigation team concluded that the cause of this stranding event was the confluence of the Navy MFAS and these contributory factors working together, and further recommended that the Navy avoid operating MFAS in situations where these five factors would be likely to occur. This report does not conclude that all five of these factors must be present for a stranding to occur, nor that beaked whale is the only species that could potentially be affected by the confluence of the other factors. Based on this, NMFS believes that the operation of MFAS in situations where surface ducts exist, or in marine environments defined by steep bathymetry and/or constricted channels may increase the likelihood of producing a sound field with the potential to cause cetaceans (especially beaked whales) to strand, and therefore, suggests the need for increased vigilance while operating MFAS in these areas, especially when beaked whales (or potentially other deep divers) are likely present.

Madeira, Portugal (2000)—From May 10-14, 2000, three Cuvier's beaked whales were found atypically stranded on two islands in the Madeira archipelago, Portugal (Cox et al., 2006). A fourth animal was reported floating in the Madeiran waters by fisherman but did not come ashore (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2005). Joint NATO amphibious training peacekeeping exercises involving participants from 17 countries 80 warships, took place in Portugal during May 2-15, 2000.

The bodies of the three stranded whales were examined post mortem (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2005), though only one of the stranded whales was fresh enough (24 hours after stranding) to be necropsied (Cox et al., 2006). Results from the necropsy revealed evidence of hemorrhage and congestion in the right lung and both kidneys (Cox et al., 2006). There was also evidence of intercochlear and intracranial hemorrhage similar to that which was observed in the whales that stranded in the Bahamas event (Cox et al., 2006). There were no signs of blunt trauma, and no major fractures (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2005). The cranial sinuses and airways were found to be clear with little or no fluid deposition, which may indicate good preservation of tissues (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2005).

Several observations on the Madeira stranded beaked whales, such as the pattern of injury to the auditory system, are the same as those observed in the Bahamas strandings. Blood in and around the eyes, kidney lesions, pleural hemorrhages, and congestion in the lungs are particularly consistent with the pathologies from the whales stranded in the Bahamas, and are consistent with stress and pressure related trauma. The similarities in pathology and stranding patterns between these two events suggest that a similar pressure event may have precipitated or contributed to the strandings at both sites (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2005).

Even though no definitive causal link can be made between the stranding event and naval exercises, certain conditions may have existed in the exercise area that, in their aggregate, may have contributed to the marine mammal strandings (Freitas, 2004): exercises were conducted in areas of at least 547 fathoms (1,000 m) depth near a shoreline where there is a rapid change in bathymetry on the order of 547 to 3,281 fathoms (1,000 to 6,000 m) occurring across a relatively short horizontal distance (Freitas, 2004); multiple ships were operating around Madeira, though it is not known if MFAS was used, and the specifics of the sound sources used are unknown (Cox et al., 2006, Freitas, 2004); and exercises took place in an area surrounded by landmasses separated by less than 35 nm (65 km) and at least 10 nm (19 km) in length, or in an embayment. Exercises involving multiple ships employing MFAS near land may produce sound directed towards a channel or embayment that may cut off the lines of egress for marine mammals (Freitas, 2004).

Canary Islands, Spain (2002)—The southeastern area within the Canary Islands is well known for aggregations of beaked whales due to its ocean depths of greater than 547 fathoms (1,000 m) within a few hundred meters of the coastline (Fernandez et al., 2005). On September 24, 2002, 14 beaked whales were found stranded on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote Islands in the Canary Islands (International Council for Exploration of the Sea, 2005a). Seven whales died, while the remaining seven live whales were returned to deeper waters (Fernandez et al., 2005). Four beaked whales were found stranded dead over the next three days either on the coast or floating offshore. These strandings occurred within near proximity of an international naval exercise that utilized MFAS and involved numerous surface warships and several submarines. Strandings began about 4 hours after the onset of MFAS activity (International Council for Exploration of the Sea, 2005a; Fernandez et al., 2005).

Eight Cuvier's beaked whales, one Blainville's beaked whale, and one Gervais' beaked whale were necropsied, six of them within 12 hours of stranding (Fernandez et al., 2005). No pathogenic bacteria were isolated from the carcasses (Jepson et al., 2003). The animals displayed severe vascular congestion and hemorrhage especially around the tissues in the jaw, ears, brain, and kidneys, displaying marked disseminated microvascular hemorrhages associated with widespread fat emboli (Jepson et al., 2003; International Council for Exploration of the Sea, 2005a). Several organs contained intravascular bubbles, although definitive evidence of gas embolism in vivo is difficult to determine after death (Jepson et al., 2003). The livers of the necropsied animals were the most consistently affected organ, which contained macroscopic gas-filled cavities and had variable degrees of fibrotic encapsulation. In some animals, cavitary lesions had extensively replaced the normal tissue (Jepson et al., 2003). Stomachs contained a large amount of fresh and undigested contents, suggesting a rapid onset of disease and death (Fernandez et al., 2005). Head and neck lymph nodes were enlarged and congested, and parasites were found in the kidneys of all animals (Fernandez et al., 2005).

The association of NATO MFAS use close in space and time to the beaked whale strandings, and the similarity between this stranding event and previous beaked whale mass strandings coincident with sonar use, suggests that a similar scenario and causative mechanism of stranding may be shared between the events. Beaked whales stranded in this event demonstrated brain and auditory system injuries, hemorrhages, and congestion in multiple organs, similar to the pathological findings of the Bahamas and Madeira stranding events. In addition, the necropsy results of Canary Islands stranding event lead to the hypothesis that the presence of disseminated and widespread gas bubbles and fat emboli were indicative of nitrogen bubble formation, similar to what might be expected in Start Printed Page 15409decompression sickness (Jepson et al., 2003; Fernández et al., 2005).

Hanalei Bay (2004)—On July 3 and 4, 2004, approximately 150 to 200 melon-headed whales occupied the shallow waters of the Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii for over 28 hrs. Attendees of a canoe blessing observed the animals entering the Bay in a single wave formation at 7 a.m. on July 3, 2004. The animals were observed moving back into the shore from the mouth of the Bay at 9 a.m. The usually pelagic animals milled in the shallow bay and were returned to deeper water with human assistance beginning at 9:30 a.m. on July 4, 2004, and were out of sight by 10:30 a.m.

Only one animal, a calf, was known to have died following this event. The animal was noted alive and alone in the Bay on the afternoon of July 4, 2004, and was found dead in the Bay the morning of July 5, 2004. A full necropsy, magnetic resonance imaging, and computerized tomography examination were performed on the calf to determine the manner and cause of death. The combination of imaging, necropsy and histological analyses found no evidence of infectious, internal traumatic, congenital, or toxic factors. Cause of death could not be definitively determined, but it is likely that maternal separation, poor nutritional condition, and dehydration contributed to the final demise of the animal. Although we do not know when the calf was separated from its mother, the animals' movement into the Bay and subsequent milling and re-grouping may have contributed to the separation or lack of nursing, especially if the maternal bond was weak or this was an inexperienced mother with her first calf.

Environmental factors, abiotic and biotic, were analyzed for any anomalous occurrences that would have contributed to the animals entering and remaining in Hanalei Bay. The Bay's bathymetry is similar to many other sites within the Hawaiian Island chain and dissimilar to sites that have been associated with mass strandings in other parts of the U.S. The weather conditions appeared to be normal for that time of year with no fronts or other significant features noted. There was no evidence of unusual distribution, occurrence of predator or prey species, or unusual harmful algal blooms, although Mobley et al., 2007 suggested that the full moon cycle that occurred at that time may have influenced a run of squid into the Bay. Weather patterns and bathymetry that have been associated with mass strandings elsewhere were not found to occur in this instance.

The Hanalei event was spatially and temporally correlated with RIMPAC. Official sonar training and tracking exercises in the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) warning area did not commence until approximately 8 a.m. on July 3 and were thus ruled out as a possible trigger for the initial movement into the Bay. However, six naval surface vessels transiting to the operational area on July 2 intermittently transmitted active sonar (for approximately 9 hours total from 1:15 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.) as they approached from the south. The potential for these transmissions to have triggered the whales' movement into Hanalei Bay was investigated. Analyses with the information available indicated that animals to the south and east of Kauai could have detected active sonar transmissions on July 2, and reached Hanalei Bay on or before 7 a.m. on July 3. However, data limitations regarding the position of the whales prior to their arrival in the Bay, the magnitude of sonar exposure, behavioral responses of melon-headed whales to acoustic stimuli, and other possible relevant factors preclude a conclusive finding regarding the role of sonar in triggering this event. Propagation modeling suggests that transmissions from sonar use during the July 3 exercise in the PMRF warning area may have been detectable at the mouth of the Bay. If the animals responded negatively to these signals, it may have contributed to their continued presence in the Bay. The U.S. Navy ceased all active sonar transmissions during exercises in this range on the afternoon of July 3. Subsequent to the cessation of sonar use, the animals were herded out of the Bay.

While causation of this stranding event may never be unequivocally determined, we consider the active sonar transmissions of July 2-3, 2004, a plausible, if not likely, contributing factor in what may have been a confluence of events. This conclusion is based on the following: (1) the evidently anomalous nature of the stranding; (2) its close spatiotemporal correlation with wide-scale, sustained use of sonar systems previously associated with stranding of deep-diving marine mammals; (3) the directed movement of two groups of transmitting vessels toward the southeast and southwest coast of Kauai; (4) the results of acoustic propagation modeling and an analysis of possible animal transit times to the Bay; and (5) the absence of any other compelling causative explanation. The initiation and persistence of this event may have resulted from an interaction of biological and physical factors. The biological factors may have included the presence of an apparently uncommon, deep-diving cetacean species (and possibly an offshore, non-resident group), social interactions among the animals before or after they entered the Bay, and/or unknown predator or prey conditions. The physical factors may have included the presence of nearby deep water, multiple vessels transiting in a directed manner while transmitting active sonar over a sustained period, the presence of surface sound ducting conditions, and/or intermittent and random human interactions while the animals were in the Bay.

A separate event involving melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins took place over the same period of time in the Northern Mariana Islands (Jefferson et al., 2006). Some 500 to 700 melon-headed whales came into Sasanhaya Bay on July 4, 2004, near the island of Rota and then left of their own accord after 5.5 hours; no known active sonar transmissions occurred in the vicinity of that event. The Rota incident led to scientific debate regarding what, if any, relationship the event had to the simultaneous events in Hawaii and whether they might be related by some common factor (e.g., there was a full moon on July 2, 2004, as well as during other melon-headed whale strandings and nearshore aggregations (Brownell et al., 2009; Lignon et al., 2007; Mobley et al., 2007). Brownell et al. (2009) compared the two incidents, along with one other stranding incident at Nuka Hiva in French Polynesia and normal resting behaviors observed at Palmyra Island, in regard to physical features in the areas, melon-headed whale behavior, and lunar cycles. Brownell et al., (2009) concluded that the rapid entry of the whales into Hanalei Bay, their movement into very shallow water far from the 100-m contour, their milling behavior (typical pre-stranding behavior), and their reluctance to leave the bay constituted an unusual event that was not similar to the events that occurred at Rota (but was similar to the events at Palmyra), which appear to be similar to observations of melon-headed whales resting normally at Palmyra Island. Additionally, there was no correlation between lunar cycle and the types of behaviors observed in the Brownell et al. (2009) examples.

Spain (2006)—The Spanish Cetacean Society reported an atypical mass stranding of four beaked whales that occurred January 26, 2006, on the southeast coast of Spain, near Mojacar (Gulf of Vera) in the Western Mediterranean Sea. According to the report, two of the whales were discovered the evening of January 26 Start Printed Page 15410and were found to be still alive. Two other whales were discovered during the day on January 27, but had already died. The first three animals were located near the town of Mojacar and the fourth animal was found dead, a few kilometers north of the first three animals. From January 25-26, 2006, Standing NATO Response Force Maritime Group Two (five of seven ships including one U.S. ship under NATO Operational Control) had conducted active sonar training against a Spanish submarine within 50 nm (93 km) of the stranding site.

Veterinary pathologists necropsied the two male and two female Cuvier's beaked whales. According to the pathologists, the most likely primary cause of this type of beaked whale mass stranding event was anthropogenic acoustic activities, most probably anti-submarine MFAS used during the military naval exercises. However, no positive acoustic link was established as a direct cause of the stranding. Even though no causal link can be made between the stranding event and naval exercises, certain conditions may have existed in the exercise area that, in their aggregate, may have contributed to the marine mammal strandings (Freitas, 2004): exercises were conducted in areas of at least 547 fathoms (1,000 m) depth near a shoreline where there is a rapid change in bathymetry on the order of 547 to 3,281 fathoms (1,000 to 6,000 m) occurring across a relatively short horizontal distance (Freitas, 2004); multiple ships (in this instance, five) were operating MFAS in the same area over extended periods of time (in this case, 20 hours) in close proximity; and exercises took place in an area surrounded by landmasses, or in an embayment. Exercises involving multiple ships employing MFAS near land may have produced sound directed towards a channel or embayment that may have cut off the lines of egress for the affected marine mammals (Freitas, 2004).

Association Between Mass Stranding Events and Exposure to MFAS

Several authors have noted similarities between some of these stranding incidents: they occurred in islands or archipelagoes with deep water nearby, several appeared to have been associated with acoustic waveguides like surface ducting, and the sound fields created by ships transmitting MFAS (Cox et al., 2006, D'Spain et al., 2006). Although Cuvier's beaked whales have been the most common species involved in these stranding events (81 percent of the total number of stranded animals), other beaked whales (including Mesoplodon europeaus, M. densirostris, and Hyperoodon ampullatus) comprise 14 percent of the total. Other species (Stenella coeruleoalba, Kogia breviceps and Balaenoptera acutorostrata) have stranded, but in much lower numbers and less consistently than beaked whales.

Based on the evidence available, however, we cannot determine whether (a) Cuvier's beaked whale is more prone to injury from high-intensity sound than other species; (b) their behavioral responses to sound makes them more likely to strand; or (c) they are more likely to be exposed to MFAS than other cetaceans (for reasons that remain unknown). Because the association between active sonar exposures and marine mammals mass stranding events is not consistent—some marine mammals strand without being exposed to sonar and some sonar transmissions are not associated with marine mammal stranding events despite their co-occurrence—other risk factors or a grouping of risk factors probably contribute to these stranding events.

Behaviorally Mediated Responses to MFAS That May Lead to Stranding

Although the confluence of Navy MFAS with the other contributory factors noted in the report was identified as the cause of the 2000 Bahamas stranding event, the specific mechanisms that led to that stranding (or the others) are not understood, and there is uncertainty regarding the ordering of effects that led to the stranding. It is unclear whether beaked whales were directly injured by sound (e.g., acoustically mediated bubble growth, as addressed above) prior to stranding or whether a behavioral response to sound occurred that ultimately caused the beaked whales to be injured and strand. Similarly, with regards to the aforementioned Madagascar stranding, a review panel suggests that a seismic survey was a plausible and likely initial trigger that caused a large group of melon-headed whales to leave their typical habitat and then ultimately strand as a result of secondary factors such as malnourishment and dehydration.

Although causal relationships between beaked whale stranding events and active sonar remain unknown, several authors have hypothesized that stranding events involving these species in the Bahamas and Canary Islands may have been triggered when the whales changed their dive behavior in a startled response to exposure to active sonar or to further avoid exposure (Cox et al., 2006, Rommel et al., 2006). These authors proposed three mechanisms by which the behavioral responses of beaked whales upon being exposed to active sonar might result in a stranding event: gas bubble formation caused by excessively fast surfacing; remaining at the surface too long when tissues are supersaturated with nitrogen; or diving prematurely when extended time at the surface is necessary to eliminate excess nitrogen. More specifically, beaked whales that occur in deep waters that are in close proximity to shallow waters (for example, the “canyon areas” that are cited in the Bahamas stranding event; see D'Spain and D'Amico, 2006), may respond to active sonar by swimming into shallow waters to avoid further exposures and strand if they were not able to swim back to deeper waters. Second, beaked whales exposed to active sonar might alter their dive behavior. Changes in their dive behavior might cause them to remain at the surface or at depth for extended periods of time which could lead to hypoxia directly by increasing their oxygen demands or indirectly by increasing their energy expenditures (to remain at depth) and increase their oxygen demands as a result. If beaked whales are at depth when they detect a ping from an active sonar transmission and change their dive profile, this could lead to the formation of significant gas bubbles, which could damage multiple organs or interfere with normal physiological function (Cox et al., 2006; Rommel et al., 2006; Zimmer and Tyack, 2007). Baird et al. (2005) found that slow ascent rates from deep dives and long periods of time spent within 50 m of the surface were typical for both Cuvier's and Blainville's beaked whales, the two species involved in mass strandings related to naval sonar. These two behavioral mechanisms may be necessary to purge excessive dissolved nitrogen concentrated in their tissues during their frequent long dives (Baird et al., 2005). Baird et al. (2005) further suggests that abnormally rapid ascents or premature dives in response to high-intensity sonar could indirectly result in physical harm to the beaked whales, through the mechanisms described above (gas bubble formation or non-elimination of excess nitrogen).

Because many species of marine mammals make repetitive and prolonged dives to great depths, it has long been assumed that marine mammals have evolved physiological mechanisms to protect against the effects of rapid and repeated decompressions. Although several investigators have identified physiological adaptations that may Start Printed Page 15411protect marine mammals against nitrogen gas supersaturation (alveolar collapse and elective circulation; Kooyman et al., 1972; Ridgway and Howard, 1979), Ridgway and Howard (1979) reported that bottlenose dolphins that were trained to dive repeatedly had muscle tissues that were substantially supersaturated with nitrogen gas. Houser et al. (2001) used these data to model the accumulation of nitrogen gas within the muscle tissue of other marine mammal species and concluded that cetaceans that dive deep and have slow ascent or descent speeds would have tissues that are more supersaturated with nitrogen gas than other marine mammals. Based on these data, Cox et al. (2006) hypothesized that a critical dive sequence might make beaked whales more prone to stranding in response to acoustic exposures. The sequence began with (1) very deep (to depths as deep as 2 kilometers) and long (as long as 90 minutes) foraging dives; (2) relatively slow, controlled ascents; and (3) a series of “bounce” dives between 100 and 400 m in depth (also see Zimmer and Tyack, 2007). They concluded that acoustic exposures that disrupted any part of this dive sequence (for example, causing beaked whales to spend more time at surface without the bounce dives that are necessary to recover from the deep dive) could produce excessive levels of nitrogen supersaturation in their tissues, leading to gas bubble and emboli formation that produces pathologies similar to decompression sickness.

Zimmer and Tyack (2007) modeled nitrogen tension and bubble growth in several tissue compartments for several hypothetical dive profiles and concluded that repetitive shallow dives (defined as a dive where depth does not exceed the depth of alveolar collapse, approximately 72 m for Ziphius), perhaps as a consequence of an extended avoidance reaction to sonar sound, could pose a risk for decompression sickness and that this risk should increase with the duration of the response. Their models also suggested that unrealistically rapid rates of ascent from normal dive behaviors are unlikely to result in supersaturation to the extent that bubble formation would be expected. Tyack et al. (2006) suggested that emboli observed in animals exposed to mid-frequency range sonar (Jepson et al., 2003; Fernandez et al., 2005) could stem from a behavioral response that involves repeated dives shallower than the depth of lung collapse. Given that nitrogen gas accumulation is a passive process (i.e. nitrogen is metabolically inert), a bottlenose dolphin was trained to repetitively dive a profile predicted to elevate nitrogen saturation to the point that nitrogen bubble formation was predicted to occur. However, inspection of the vascular system of the dolphin via ultrasound did not demonstrate the formation of asymptomatic nitrogen gas bubbles (Houser et al., 2007). Baird et al. (2008), in a beaked whale tagging study off Hawaii, showed that deep dives are equally common during day or night, but “bounce dives” are typically a daytime behavior, possibly associated with visual predator avoidance. This may indicate that “bounce dives” are associated with something other than behavioral regulation of dissolved nitrogen levels, which would be necessary day and night.

If marine mammals respond to a Navy vessel that is transmitting active sonar in the same way that they might respond to a predator, their probability of flight responses should increase when they perceive that Navy vessels are approaching them directly, because a direct approach may convey detection and intent to capture (Burger and Gochfeld, 1981, 1990; Cooper, 1997, 1998). The probability of flight responses should also increase as received levels of active sonar increase (and the ship is, therefore, closer) and as ship speeds increase (that is, as approach speeds increase). For example, the probability of flight responses in Dall's sheep (Ovis dalli dalli) (Frid 2001a, b), ringed seals (Phoca hispida) (Born et al., 1999), Pacific brant (Branta bernic nigricans) and Canada geese (B. Canadensis) increased as a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft approached groups of these animals more directly (Ward et al., 1999). Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched on trees alongside a river were also more likely to flee from a paddle raft when their perches were closer to the river or were closer to the ground (Steidl and Anthony, 1996).

Despite the many theories involving bubble formation (both as a direct cause of injury (see Acoustically Mediated Bubble Growth Section) and an indirect cause of stranding (See Behaviorally Mediated Bubble Growth Section)), Southall et al., (2007) summarizes that there is either scientific disagreement or a lack of information regarding each of the following important points: (1) Received acoustical exposure conditions for animals involved in stranding events; (2) pathological interpretation of observed lesions in stranded marine mammals; (3) acoustic exposure conditions required to induce such physical trauma directly; (4) whether noise exposure may cause behavioral reactions (such as atypical diving behavior) that secondarily cause bubble formation and tissue damage; and (5) the extent the post mortem artifacts introduced by decomposition before sampling, handling, freezing, or necropsy procedures affect interpretation of observed lesions. However, studies like DeRuiter et al. (2013) highlight the importance of context in predicting behavioral responses of marine mammals to active acoustics. DeRuiter observed that beaked whales exposed to playbacks of U.S. tactical mid-frequency sonar from 89 to 127 dB at close distances responded notably (i.e., altered dive patterns), while individuals did not behaviorally respond when exposed to similar received levels from actual U.S. tactical mid-frequency sonar operated at much further distances.

Impulsive Sources

Underwater explosive detonations send a shock wave and sound energy through the water and can release gaseous by-products, create an oscillating bubble, or cause a plume of water to shoot up from the water surface. The shock wave and accompanying noise are of most concern to marine animals. Depending on the intensity of the shock wave and size, location, and depth of the animal, an animal can be injured, killed, suffer non-lethal physical effects, experience hearing related effects with or without behavioral responses, or exhibit temporary behavioral responses or tolerance from hearing the blast sound. Generally, exposures to higher levels of impulse and pressure levels result in greater impacts to an individual animal.

Injuries resulting from a shock wave take place at boundaries between tissues of different densities. Different velocities are imparted to tissues of different densities, and this can lead to their physical disruption. Blast effects are greatest at the gas-liquid interface (Landsberg, 2000). Gas-containing organs, particularly the lungs and gastrointestinal tract, are especially susceptible (Goertner, 1982; Hill, 1978; Yelverton et al., 1973). In addition, gas-containing organs including the nasal sacs, larynx, pharynx, trachea, and lungs may be damaged by compression/expansion caused by the oscillations of the blast gas bubble (Reidenberg and Laitman, 2003). Intestinal walls can bruise or rupture, with subsequent hemorrhage and escape of gut contents into the body cavity. Less severe gastrointestinal tract injuries include contusions, petechiae (small red or purple spots caused by bleeding in the Start Printed Page 15412skin), and slight hemorrhaging (Yelverton et al., 1973).

Because the ears are the most sensitive to pressure, they are the organs most sensitive to injury (Ketten, 2000). Sound-related damage associated with sound energy from detonations can be theoretically distinct from injury from the shock wave, particularly farther from the explosion. If a noise is audible to an animal, it has the potential to damage the animal's hearing by causing decreased sensitivity (Ketten, 1995). Sound-related trauma can be lethal or sublethal. Lethal impacts are those that result in immediate death or serious debilitation in or near an intense source and are not, technically, pure acoustic trauma (Ketten, 1995). Sublethal impacts include hearing loss, which is caused by exposures to perceptible sounds. Severe damage (from the shock wave) to the ears includes tympanic membrane rupture, fracture of the ossicles, damage to the cochlea, hemorrhage, and cerebrospinal fluid leakage into the middle ear. Moderate injury implies partial hearing loss due to tympanic membrane rupture and blood in the middle ear. Permanent hearing loss also can occur when the hair cells are damaged by one very loud event, as well as by prolonged exposure to a loud noise or chronic exposure to noise. The level of impact from blasts depends on both an animal's location and, at outer zones, on its sensitivity to the residual noise (Ketten, 1995).

There have been fewer studies addressing the behavioral effects of explosives on marine mammals compared to MFAS/HFAS. However, though the nature of the sound waves emitted from an explosion are different (in shape and rise time) from MFAS/HFAS, we still anticipate the same sorts of behavioral responses to result from repeated explosive detonations (a smaller range of likely less severe responses (i.e., not rising to the level of MMPA harassment) would be expected to occur as a result of exposure to a single explosive detonation that was not powerful enough or close enough to the animal to cause TTS or injury).

Vessel Strike

Commercial and Navy ship strikes of cetaceans can cause major wounds, which may lead to the death of the animal. An animal at the surface could be struck directly by a vessel, a surfacing animal could hit the bottom of a vessel, or an animal just below the surface could be cut by a vessel's propeller. The severity of injuries typically depends on the size and speed of the vessel (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007). The most vulnerable marine mammals are those that spend extended periods of time at the surface in order to restore oxygen levels within their tissues after deep dives (e.g., the sperm whale). In addition, some baleen whales, such as the North Atlantic right whale, seem generally unresponsive to vessel sound, making them more susceptible to vessel collisions (Nowacek et al., 2004). These species are primarily large, slow moving whales. Smaller marine mammals (e.g., bottlenose dolphin) move quickly through the water column and are often seen riding the bow wave of large ships. Marine mammal responses to vessels may include avoidance and changes in dive pattern (NRC, 2003).

An examination of all known ship strikes from all shipping sources (civilian and military) indicates vessel speed is a principal factor in whether a vessel strike results in death (Knowlton and Kraus, 2001; Laist et al., 2001; Jensen and Silber, 2003; Vanderlaan and Taggart, 2007). In assessing records in which vessel speed was known, Laist et al. (2001) found a direct relationship between the occurrence of a whale strike and the speed of the vessel involved in the collision. The authors concluded that most deaths occurred when a vessel was traveling in excess of 13 knots.

Jensen and Silber (2003) detailed 292 records of known or probable ship strikes of all large whale species from 1975 to 2002. Of these, vessel speed at the time of collision was reported for 58 cases. Of these cases, 39 (or 67 percent) resulted in serious injury or death (19 of those resulted in serious injury as determined by blood in the water, propeller gashes or severed tailstock, and fractured skull, jaw, vertebrae, hemorrhaging, massive bruising or other injuries noted during necropsy and 20 resulted in death). Operating speeds of vessels that struck various species of large whales ranged from 2 to 51 knots. The majority (79 percent) of these strikes occurred at speeds of 13 knots or greater. The average speed that resulted in serious injury or death was 18.6 knots. Pace and Silber (2005) found that the probability of death or serious injury increased rapidly with increasing vessel speed. Specifically, the predicted probability of serious injury or death increased from 45 to 75 percent as vessel speed increased from 10 to 14 knots, and exceeded 90 percent at 17 knots. Higher speeds during collisions result in greater force of impact, but higher speeds also appear to increase the chance of severe injuries or death by pulling whales toward the vessel. Computer simulation modeling showed that hydrodynamic forces pulling whales toward the vessel hull increase with increasing speed (Clyne, 1999; Knowlton et al., 1995).

The Jensen and Silber (2003) report notes that the database represents a minimum number of collisions, because the vast majority probably goes undetected or unreported. In contrast, Navy vessels are likely to detect any strike that does occur, and they are required to report all ship strikes involving marine mammals. Overall, the percentages of Navy traffic relative to overall large shipping traffic are very small (on the order of 2 percent).

There are no records of any Navy vessel strikes to marine mammals in the Study Area. There have been Navy strikes of large whales in areas outside the Study Area, such as Hawaii and Southern California. However, these areas differ significantly from the Study Area given that both Hawaii and Southern California have a much higher number of Navy vessel activities and appear to have much higher densities of large whales.

Anticipated Effects on Marine Mammal Habitat

The Navy's proposed training and testing activities could potentially affect marine mammal habitat through the introduction of sound into the water column, impacts to the prey species of marine mammals, bottom disturbance, or changes in water quality. Each of these components was considered in chapter 3 of the MITT DEIS/OEIS. Based on the information below, the impacts to marine mammals and the food sources that they use are not expected to cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations.

Important Marine Mammal Habitat

No critical habitat for marine mammals species protected under the ESA has been designated in the MITT Study Area. There are also no known specific breeding or calving areas for marine mammals within the MITT Study Area.

Expected Effects on Habitat

Unless the sound source or explosive detonation is stationary and/or continuous over a long duration in one area, the effects of the introduction of sound into the environment are generally considered to have a less severe impact on marine mammal habitat than the physical alteration of the habitat. Acoustic exposures are not expected to result in long-term physical alteration of the water column or bottom topography, as the occurrences are of Start Printed Page 15413limited duration and are intermittent in time. Surface vessels associated with the activities are present in limited duration and are intermittent as they are continuously and relatively rapidly moving through any given area. Most of the high-explosive military expended materials would detonate at or near the water surface. Only bottom-laid explosives are likely to affect bottom substrate; habitat used for underwater detonations and seafloor device placement would primarily be soft-bottom sediment. Once on the seafloor, military expended material would likely be colonized by benthic organisms because the materials would serve as anchor points in the shifting bottom substrates, similar to a reef. The surface area of bottom substrate affected would make up a very small percentage of the total training and testing area available in the MITT Study Area.

Effects on Marine Mammal Prey

Invertebrates—Marine invertebrate distribution in the MITT Study Area is influenced by habitat, ocean currents, and water quality factors such as temperature, salinity, and nutrient content (Levinton 2009). The distribution of invertebrates is also influenced by their distance from the equator (latitude); in general, the number of marine invertebrate species increases toward the equator (Macpherson 2002). The higher number of species (diversity) and abundance of marine invertebrates in coastal habitats, compared with the open ocean, is a result of more nutrient availability from terrestrial environments and the variety of habitats and substrates found in coastal waters (Levinton 2009).

The Mariana nearshore environment is characterized by extensive coral bottom and coral reef areas. In general, the coral reefs of the Marianas have a lower coral diversity compared to other reefs in the northwestern Pacific, but a higher density than the reefs of Hawaii. Numerous corals, hydroids, jellyfish, worms, mollusks, arthropods, echinoderms, sponges, and protozoa are found throughout the Study Area. Detailed information on species presence and characteristics is provided in Chapter 3 of the MITT DEIS/OEIS.

Very little is known about sound detection and use of sound by aquatic invertebrates (Budelmann 2010; Montgomery et al., 2006; Popper et al., 2001). Organisms may detect sound by sensing either the particle motion or pressure component of sound, or both. Aquatic invertebrates probably do not detect pressure since many are generally the same density as water and few, if any, have air cavities that would function like the fish swim bladder in responding to pressure (Budelmann 2010; Popper et al., 2001). Many marine invertebrates, however, have ciliated “hair” cells that may be sensitive to water movements, such as those caused by currents or water particle motion very close to a sound source (Budelmann 2010; Mackie and Singla 2003). These cilia may allow invertebrates to sense nearby prey or predators or help with local navigation. Marine invertebrates may produce and use sound in territorial behavior, to deter predators, to find a mate, and to pursue courtship (Popper et al., 2001).

Both behavioral and auditory brainstem response studies suggest that crustaceans may sense sounds up to three kilohertz (kHz), but best sensitivity is likely below 200 Hz (Lovell et al., 2005; Lovell et al. 2006; Goodall et al. 1990). Most cephalopods (e.g., octopus and squid) likely sense low-frequency sound below 1,000 Hz, with best sensitivities at lower frequencies (Budelmann 2010; Mooney et al., 2010; Packard et al., 1990). A few cephalopods may sense higher frequencies up to 1,500 Hz (Hu et al., 2009). Squid did not respond to toothed whale ultrasonic echolocation clicks at sound pressure levels ranging from 199 to 226 dB re 1 μPa peak-to-peak, likely because these clicks were outside of squid hearing range (Wilson et al., 2007). However, squid exhibited alarm responses when exposed to broadband sound from an approaching seismic airgun with received levels exceeding 145 to 150 dB re 1 μPa root mean square (McCauley et al., 2000b).

Little information is available on the potential impacts on marine invertebrates of exposure to sonar, explosions, and other sound-producing activities. It is expected that most marine invertebrates would not sense mid- or high-frequency sounds, distant sounds, or aircraft noise transmitted through the air-water interface. Most marine invertebrates would not be close enough to intense sound sources, such as some sonars, to potentially experience impacts to sensory structures. Any marine invertebrate capable of sensing sound may alter its behavior if exposed to non-impulsive sound, although it is unknown if responses to non-impulsive sounds occur. Continuous noise, such as from vessels, may contribute to masking of relevant environmental sounds, such as reef noise. Because the distance over which most marine invertebrates are expected to detect any sounds is limited and vessels would be in transit, any sound exposures with the potential to cause masking or behavioral responses would be brief and long-term impacts are not expected. Although non-impulsive underwater sounds produced during training and testing activities may briefly impact individuals, intermittent exposures to non-impulsive sounds are not expected to impact survival, growth, recruitment, or reproduction of widespread marine invertebrate populations.

Most detonations would occur greater than 3 nm from shore. As water depth increases away from shore, benthic invertebrates would be less likely to be impacted by detonations at or near the surface. In addition, detonations near the surface would release a portion of their explosive energy into the air, reducing the explosive impacts in the water. Some marine invertebrates may be sensitive to the low-frequency component of impulsive sound, and they may exhibit startle reactions or temporary changes in swim speed in response to an impulsive exposure. Because exposures are brief, limited in number, and spread over a large area, no long-term impacts due to startle reactions or short-term behavioral changes are expected. Although individual marine invertebrates may be injured or killed during an explosion, no long-term impacts on the survival, growth, recruitment, or reproduction of marine invertebrate populations are expected.

Fish—Fish are not distributed uniformly throughout the MITT Study Area, but are closely associated with a variety of habitats. Some species range across thousands of square miles while others have small home ranges and restricted distributions (Helfman et al., 2009). There are approximately 1,106 marine fish species in the coastal zone of the Study Area. Detailed information on species presence, distribution, and characteristics are provided in chapter 3 of the MITT DEIS/OEIS.

All fish have two sensory systems to detect sound in the water: the inner ear, which functions very much like the inner ear in other vertebrates, and the lateral line, which consists of a series of receptors along the fish's body (Popper 2008). The inner ear generally detects relatively higher-frequency sounds, while the lateral line detects water motion at low frequencies (below a few hundred Hz) (Hastings and Popper 2005a). Although hearing capability data only exist for fewer than 100 of the 32,000 fish species, current data suggest that most species of fish detect sounds from 50 to 1,000 Hz, with few fish hearing sounds above 4 kHz (Popper 2008). It is believed that most fish have their best hearing sensitivity from 100 to 400 Hz (Popper 2003b). Additionally, Start Printed Page 15414some clupeids (shad in the subfamily Alosinae) possess ultrasonic hearing (i.e., able to detect sounds above 100,000 Hz) (Astrup 1999). Permanent hearing loss, or permanent threshold shift has not been documented in fish. The sensory hair cells of the inner ear in fish can regenerate after they are damaged, unlike in mammals where sensory hair cells loss is permanent (Lombarte et al. 1993; Smith et al. 2006). As a consequence, any hearing loss in fish may be as temporary as the timeframe required to repair or replace the sensory cells that were damaged or destroyed (e.g., Smith et al. 2006).

Potential direct injuries from non-impulsive sound sources, such as sonar, are unlikely because of the relatively lower peak pressures and slower rise times than potentially injurious sources such as explosives. Non-impulsive sources also lack the strong shock waves associated with an explosion. Therefore, direct injury is not likely to occur from exposure to non-impulsive sources such as sonar, vessel noise, or subsonic aircraft noise. Only a few fish species are able to detect high-frequency sonar and could have behavioral reactions or experience auditory masking during these activities. These effects are expected to be transient and long-term consequences for the population are not expected. MFAS is unlikely to impact fish species because most species are unable to detect sounds in this frequency range, and vessels operating MFAS would be transiting an area (not stationary). While a large number of fish species may be able to detect low-frequency sonar and other active acoustic sources, low-frequency active usage is rare and mostly conducted in deeper waters. Overall effects to fish from would be localized and infrequent.

Physical effects from pressure waves generated by underwater sounds (e.g. underwater explosions) could potentially affect fish within proximity of training or testing activities. In particular, the rapid oscillation between high- and low-pressure peaks has the potential to burst the swim bladders and other gas-containing organs of fish (Keevin and Hemen 1997). Sublethal effects, such as changes in behavior of fish, have been observed in several occasions as a result of noise produced by explosives (National Research Council of the National Academies 2003; Wright 1982). If an individual fish were repeatedly exposed to sounds from underwater explosions that caused alterations in natural behavioral patterns or physiological stress, these impacts could lead to long-term consequences for the individual such as reduced survival, growth, or reproductive capacity. However, the time scale of individual explosions is very limited, and training exercises involving explosions are dispersed in space and time. Consequently, repeated exposure of individual fish to sounds from underwater explosions is not likely and most acoustic effects are expected to be short-term and localized. Long-term consequences for populations would not be expected. A limited number of fish may be killed in the immediate proximity of underwater detonations and additional fish may be injured. Short-term effects such as masking, stress, behavioral change, and hearing threshold shifts are also expected during underwater detonations. However, given the relatively small area that would be affected, and the abundance and distribution of the species concerned, no population-level effects are expected. The abundances of various fish and invertebrates near the detonation point of an explosion could be altered for a few hours before animals from surrounding areas repopulate the area; however, these populations would be replenished as waters near the sound source are mixed with adjacent waters.

Marine Mammal Avoidance

Marine mammals may be temporarily displaced from areas where Navy training and testing is occurring, but the area should be utilized again after the activities have ceased. Avoidance of an area can help the animal avoid further acoustic effects by avoiding or reducing further exposure. The intermittent or short duration of many activities should prevent animals from being exposed to stressors on a continuous basis. In areas of repeated and frequent acoustic disturbance, some animals may habituate or learn to tolerate the new baseline or fluctuations in noise level. While some animals may not return to an area, or may begin using an area differently due to training and testing activities, most animals are expected to return to their usual locations and behavior.

Other Expected Effects

Other sources that may affect marine mammal habitat were considered in the MITT DEIS/OEIS and potentially include the introduction of fuel, debris, ordnance, and chemical residues into the water column. The majority of high-order explosions would occur at or above the surface of the ocean, and would have no impacts on sediments and minimal impacts on water quality. While disturbance or strike from an item falling through the water column is possible, it is unlikely because (1) objects sink slowly, (2) most projectiles are fired at targets (and hit those targets), and (3) animals are generally widely dispersed throughout the water column and over the MITT Study Area. Chemical, physical, or biological changes in sediment or water quality would not be detectable. In the event of an ordnance failure, the energetic materials it contained would remain mostly intact. The explosive materials in failed ordnance items and metal components from training and testing would leach slowly and would quickly disperse in the water column. Chemicals from other explosives would not be introduced into the water column in large amounts and all torpedoes would be recovered following training and testing activities, reducing the potential for chemical concentrations to reach levels that can affect sediment quality, water quality, or benthic habitats.

Proposed Mitigation

In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5)(A) 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.” NMFS' duty under this “least practicable adverse impact” standard is to prescribe mitigation reasonably designed to minimize, to the extent practicable, any adverse population-level impacts, as well as habitat impacts. While population-level impacts can be minimized only be reducing impacts on individual marine mammals, not all takes translate to population-level impacts. NMFS' objective under the “least practicable adverse impact” standard is to design mitigation targeting those impacts on individual marine mammals that are most likely to lead to adverse population-level effects.

The NDAA of 2004 amended the MMPA as it relates to military-readiness activities and the ITA process such that “least practicable adverse impact” shall include consideration of personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the “military readiness activity.” The training and testing activities described in the Navy's LOA application are considered military readiness activities.

NMFS reviewed the proposed activities and the proposed mitigation measures as described in the Navy's LOA application to determine if they would result in the least practicable Start Printed Page 15415adverse effect on marine mammals, which includes a careful balancing of the likely benefit of any particular measure to the marine mammals with the likely effect of that measure on personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the “military-readiness activity.” Included below are the mitigation measures the Navy proposed in their LOA application. NMFS worked with the Navy to develop these proposed measures, and they are informed by years of experience and monitoring.

The Navy's proposed mitigation measures are modifications to the proposed activities that are implemented for the sole purpose of reducing a specific potential environmental impact on a particular resource. These do not include standard operating procedures, which are established for reasons other than environmental benefit. Most of the following proposed mitigation measures are currently, or were previously, implemented as a result of past environmental compliance documents. The Navy's overall approach to assessing potential mitigation measures is based on two principles: (1) Mitigation measures will be effective at reducing potential impacts on the resource, and (2) from a military perspective, the mitigation measures are practicable, executable, and safety and readiness will not be impacted.

Lookouts

The use of lookouts is a critical component of Navy procedural measures and implementation of mitigation zones. Navy lookouts are highly qualified and experienced observers of the marine environment. Their duties require that they report all objects sighted in the water to the Officer of the Deck (OOD) (e.g., trash, a periscope, marine mammals, sea turtles) and all disturbances (e.g., surface disturbance, discoloration) that may be indicative of a threat to the vessel and its crew. There are personnel standing watch on station at all times (day and night) when a ship or surfaced submarine is moving through the water.

The Navy would have two types of lookouts for the purposes of conducting visual observations: (1) Those positioned on surface ships, and (2) those positioned in aircraft or on small boats. Lookouts positioned on surface ships would be dedicated solely to diligent observation of the air and surface of the water. They would have multiple observation objectives, including detecting the presence of biological resources and recreational or fishing boats, observing mitigation zones, and monitoring for vessel and personnel safety concerns.

Due to aircraft and boat manning and space restrictions, lookouts positioned in aircraft or on boats would consist of the aircraft crew, pilot, or boat crew. Lookouts positioned in aircraft and boats may be responsible for tasks in addition to observing the air or surface of the water (for example, navigation of a helicopter or rigid hull inflatable boat). However, aircraft and boat lookouts would, to the maximum extent practicable and consistent with aircraft and boat safety and training and testing requirements, comply with the observation objectives described above for lookouts positioned on surface ships.

The Navy proposes to use at least one lookout during the training and testing activities provided in Table 7. Additional details on lookout procedures and implementation are provided in Chapter 11 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Table 7—Lookout Mitigation Measures for Training and Testing Activities Within the MITT Study Area

Number of lookoutsTraining and testing activitiesBenefit
4Mine countermeasure and neutralization activities using time-delay firing devices with up to a 20 lb net explosive weight detonation. If applicable, aircrew and divers would report sightings of marine mammalsLookouts can visually detect marine mammals so that potentially harmful impacts from explosives use can be avoided. Lookouts dedicated to observations can more quickly And effectively relay sighting information so that corrective action can be taken. Support from aircrew and divers, if they have are involved, would increase the probability of sightings, reducing the potential for impacts.
2Vessels greater than 20 m1 (65 ft) using low-frequency active sonar or hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar associated with anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare activities at sea; vessels greater than 200 ft (61 m) conducting general mine countermeasure and neutralization activities using up to a 20 lb net explosive weight detonation; mine neutralization activities involving positive control diver-placed charges using up to a 20 lb net explosive weight detonation. Sinking exercises (one in an aircraft and one on a vessel)Lookouts can visually detect marine mammals so that potentially harmful impacts from Navy sonar and explosives use can be avoided. Dedicated lookouts can more quickly and effectively relay sighting information so that corrective action can be taken. Support from aircrew and divers, if they are involved, would increase the probability of sightings, reducing the potential for impacts.
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1Vessels using low-frequency or hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar associated with anti-submarine or mine warfare activities at sea; ships less than 65 ft (20 m) in length; the Littoral Combat Ship and similar ships which are minimally manned; ships conducting active sonar activities while moored or at anchor (including pierside); ships or aircraft conducting high-frequency or non-hull mounted mid-frequency active sonar associated with anti-submarine and mine warfare activities at sea; helicopter dipping mid-frequency active sonar; IEER sonobuoys; aircraft conducting explosive sonobuoy exercises using 0.6-2.5 lb net explosive weight; anti-swimmer grenades; vessels less than 200 ft (61 m) conducting general mine countermeasure and neutralization activities using up to a 20 lb net explosive weight detonation; surface gunnery activities; missile using surface target and up to 500 lb net explosive weight; aircraft conducting bombing activities; explosive torpedo testing; vessels underway; activities using towed in-water devices; and activities using non-explosive practice munitions against a surface targetLookouts can visually detect marine mammals so that potentially harmful impacts from Navy sonar; explosives; sonobuoys; gunnery rounds; missiles; explosive torpedoes; towed systems; surface vessel propulsion; and non-explosive munitions can be avoided.
1 With the exception of the Littoral Combat Ship and similar ships which are minimally manned, moored, or anchored.

Personnel standing watch on the bridge, Commanding Officers, Executive Officers, maritime patrol aircraft aircrews, anti-submarine warfare helicopter crews, civilian equivalents, and lookouts would complete the NMFS-approved Marine Species Awareness Training (MSAT) prior to standing watch or serving as a lookout. Additional details on the Navy's MSAT program are provided in Chapter 5 of the MITT DEIS/OEIS.

Mitigation Zones

The Navy proposes to use mitigation zones to reduce the potential impacts to marine mammals from training and testing activities. Mitigation zones are measured as the radius from a source and represent a distance that the Navy would monitor. Mitigation zones are applied to acoustic stressors (i.e., non-impulsive and impulsive sound) and physical strike and disturbance (e.g., vessel movement and bombing exercises). In each instance, visual detections of marine mammals would be communicated immediately to a watch station for information dissemination and appropriate action. Acoustic detections would be communicated to lookouts posted in aircraft and on surface vessels.

Most of the current mitigation zones for activities that involve the use of impulsive and non-impulsive sources were originally designed to reduce the potential for onset of TTS. The Navy updated their acoustic propagation modeling to incorporate new hearing threshold metrics (i.e., upper and lower frequency limits), new marine mammal density data, and factors such as an animal's likely presence at various depths. An explanation of the acoustic propagation modeling process can be found in previous authorizations for the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Study Area and the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area and the Determination of Acoustic Effects on Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles for the Mariana Islands Training and Testing EIS/OEIS technical report (DoN, 2013).

As a result of updates to the acoustic propagation modeling, some of the ranges to effects are larger than previous model outputs. Due to the ineffectiveness of mitigating such large areas, the Navy is unable to mitigate for onset of TTS during every activity. However, some ranges to effects are smaller than previous models estimated, and the mitigation zones were adjusted accordingly to provide consistency across the measures. The Navy developed each proposed mitigation zone to avoid or reduce the potential for onset of the lowest level of injury, PTS, out to the predicted maximum range. Mitigating to the predicted maximum range to PTS also mitigates to the predicted maximum range to onset mortality (1 percent mortality), onset slight lung injury, and onset slight gastrointestinal tract injury, since the maximum range to effects for these criteria are shorter than for PTS. Furthermore, in most cases, the predicted maximum range to PTS also covers the predicted average range to TTS. Tables 8 and 9 summarize the predicted average range to TTS, average range to PTS, maximum range to PTS, and recommended mitigation zone for each activity category, based on the Navy's acoustic propagation modeling results. It is important for the Navy to have standardized mitigation zones wherever training and testing may be conducted. The information in Tables 8 and 9 was developed in consideration of both Atlantic and Pacific Ocean conditions, marine mammal species, environmental factors, effectiveness, and operational assessments.

The Navy's proposed mitigation zones are based on the longest range for all the marine mammal and sea turtle functional hearing groups. Most mitigation zones were driven by the high-frequency cetaceans or sea turtles functional hearing group. Therefore, the mitigation zones are more conservative for the remaining functional hearing groups (low-frequency and mid-frequency cetaceans), and likely cover a larger portion of the potential range to onset of TTS. Additional information on the estimated range to effects for each acoustic stressor is detailed in Chapter 11 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications). Start Printed Page 15417

Table 8—Predicted Ranges to TTS, PTS, and Recommended Mitigation Zones

Activity categoryBin (representative source) *Predicted average (longest) range to TTSPredicted average (longest) range to PTSPredicted maximum range to PTSRecommended mitigation zone
Non-Impulsive Sound
Low-Frequency and Hull-Mounted Mid-Frequency Active SonarMF1 (SQS-53 ASW hull-mounted sonar)4,251 yd. (3,887 m)281 yd. (257 m)<292 yd. (<267 m)6 dB power down at 1,000 yd. (914 m); 4 dB power down at 500 yd. (457 m); and shutdown at 200 yd. (183 m).
LF4 (low-frequency sonar) **4,251 yd. (3,887 m)281 yd. (257 m)<292 yd. (<267 m)200 yd. (183 m).**
High-Frequency and Non-Hull Mounted Mid-Frequency Active SonarMF4 (AQS-22 ASW dipping sonar)226 yd. (207 m)<55 yd. (<50 m)<55 yd. (<50 m)200 yd. (183 m).
Explosive and Impulsive Sound
Improved Extended Echo Ranging SonobuoysE4 (Explosive sonobuoy)434 yd. (397 m)156 yd. (143 m)563 yd. (515 m)600 yd. (549 m).
Explosive Sonobuoys using 0.6-2.5 lb. NEWE3 (Explosive sonobuoy)290 yd. (265 m)113 yd. (103 m)309 yd. (283 m)350 yd. (320 m).
Anti-Swimmer GrenadesE2 (Up to 0.5 lb. NEW)190 yd. (174 m)83 yd. (76 m)182 yd. (167 m)200 yd. (183 m).
Mine Countermeasure and Neutralization Activities Using Positive Control Firing DevicesNEW dependent (see Table 9)
Mine Neutralization Diver-Placed Mines Using Time-Delay Firing DevicesE6 (Up to 20 lb. NEW)407 yd. (372 m)98 yd. (90 m)102 yd. (93 m)1,000 yd. (915 m).
Gunnery Exercises—Small- and Medium-Caliber (Surface Target)E2 (40 mm projectile)190 yd. (174 m)83 yd. (76 m)182 yd. (167 m)200 yd. (183 m).
Gunnery Exercises—Large-Caliber (Surface Target)E5 (5 in. projectiles at the surface * * * )453 yd. (414 m)186 yd. (170 m)526 yd. (481 m)600 yd. (549 m).
Missile Exercises up to 250 lb. NEW (Surface Target)E9 (Maverick missile)949 yd. (868 m)398 yd. (364 m)699 yd. (639 m)900 yd. (823 m).
Missile Exercises up to 500 lb. NEW (Surface Target)E10 (Harpoon missile)1,832 yd. (1,675 m)731 yd. (668 m)1,883 yd. (1,721 m)2,000 yd. (1.8 km).
Bombing ExercisesE12 (MK-84 2,000 lb. bomb)2,513 yd. (2.3 km)991 yd. (906 m)2,474 yd. (2.3 km)2,500 yd. (2.3 km).**
Torpedo (Explosive) TestingE11 (MK-48 torpedo)1,632 yd. (1.5 km)697 yd. (637 m)2,021 yd. (1.8 km)2,100 yd. (1.9 km).
Sinking ExercisesE12 (Various sources up to the MK-84 2,000 lb. bomb)2,513 yd. (2.3 km)991 yd. (906 m)2,474 yd. (2.3 km)2.5 nm.
ASW: anti-submarine warfare; NEW: net explosive weight; PTS: permanent threshold shift; TTS: temporary threshold shift
* This table does not provide an inclusive list of source bins; bins presented here represent the source bin with the largest range to effects within the given activity category.
** Recommended mitigation zones are larger than the modeled injury zones to account for multiple types of sources or charges being used.
*** The representative source bin E5 has different range to effects depending on the depth of activity occurrence (at the surface or at various depths).

Table 9—Predicted Ranges To Effects and Mitigation Zone Radius for Mine Countermeasure and Neutralization Activities Using Positive Control Firing Devices

Charge size net explosive weight (bins)General Mine Countermeasure and neutralization activities using positive control firing devices *Mine countermeasure and Neutralization activities using diver placed charges under positive control **
Predicted average range to TTSPredicted average range to PTSPredicted maximum range to PTSRecommended Mitigation ZonePredicted average range to TTSPredicted average range to PTSPredicted maximum range too PTSRecommended mitigation zone
2.6-5 lb. (1.2-2.3 kg) (E4)434 yd. (474 m)197 yd. (180 m)563 yd. (515 m)600 yd. (549 m)545 yd. (498 m)169 yd. (155 m)301 yd. (275 m)350 yd. (320 m).
6-10 lb. (2.7-4.5 kg) (E5)525 yd. (480 m)204 yd. (187 m)649 Yd. (593 m)800 yd. (732 m)587 yd. (537 m)203 yd. (185 m)464 yd. (424 m)500 yd. 457 m).
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11-20 lb. (5-9.1 kg) (E6)766 yd. (700 m)288 yd. 263 m)648 yd. (593 m)800 yd. (732 m)647 yd. (592 m)232 yd. (212 m)469 yd. (429 m)500 yd. (457 m).
PTS: permanent threshold shift; TTS: temporary threshold shift.
* These mitigation zones are applicable to all mine countermeasure and neutralization activities conducted in all locations specified in Chapter 2 of the Navy's LOA application.
** These mitigation zones are only applicable to mine countermeasure and neutralization activities involving the use of diver placed charges. These activities are conducted in shallow-water and the mitigation zones are based only on the functional hearing groups with species that occur in these areas (mid-frequency cetaceans and sea turtles).

Low-Frequency and Hull Mounted Mid-Frequency Active Sonar

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for low-frequency active sonar sources analyzed in the MITT EIS/OEIS and associated with new platforms or systems, such as the Littoral Combat Ship. The Navy is proposing to (1) add mitigation measures for low-frequency active sonar, (2) continue implementing the current measures for mid-frequency active sonar, and (3) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting. The proposed measures are below.

Training and testing activities that involve the use of low-frequency and hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar (including pierside) would use lookouts for visual observation from a ship immediately before and during the exercise. With the exception of certain low-frequency sources that are not able to be powered down during the activity (e.g., low-frequency sources within bin LF4), mitigation would involve powering down the sonar by 6 dB when a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within 1,000 yd. (914 m), and by an additional 4 dB when sighted within 500 yd. (457 m) from the source, for a total reduction of 10 dB. If the source can be turned off during the activity, active transmissions would cease if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within 200 yd. (183 m).

Active transmission would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes, (4) the ship has transited more than 2,000 yd. (1.8 km) beyond the location of the last sighting, or (5) the ship concludes that dolphins are deliberately closing in on the ship to ride the ship's bow wave (and there are no other marine mammal sightings within the mitigation zone). Active transmission may resume when dolphins are bow riding because they are out of the main transmission axis of the active sonar while in the shallow-wave area of the vessel bow.

If the source is not able to be powered down during the activity (e.g., low-frequency sources within bin LF4), mitigation would involve ceasing active transmission if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within 200 yd. (183 m). Active transmission would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed existing the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on a determination of its course and speed and the relative motion between the animal and the source, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes, or (4) the ship has transited more than 400 yd. (366 m) beyond the location of the last sighting and the animal's estimated course direction.

High-Frequency and Non-Hull Mounted Mid-Frequency Active Sonar

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for all high-frequency and non-hull mounted mid-frequency active sonar activities (i.e., new sources or sources not previously analyzed). The Navy is proposing to (1) continue implementing the current mitigation measures for activities currently being executed, such as dipping sonar activities, (2) extend the implementation of its current mitigation to all other activities in this category, and (3) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting. The proposed measures are provided below.

Mitigation would include visual observation from a vessel or aircraft (with the exception of platforms operating at high altitudes) immediately before and during active transmission within a mitigation zone of 200 yd. (183 m) from the active sonar source. For activities involving helicopter-deployed dipping sonar, visual observation would commence 10 minutes before the first deployment of active dipping sonar. If the source can be turned off during the activity, active transmission would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the mitigation zone. Active transmission would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes for an aircraft-deployed source, (4) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes for a vessel-deployed source, (5) the vessel or aircraft has repositioned itself more than 400 yd. (366 m) away from the location of the last sighting and the animal's estimated course direction, or (6) the vessel concludes that dolphins are deliberately closing in to ride the vessel's bow wave (and there are no other marine mammal sightings within the mitigation zone).

Improved Extended Echo Ranging Sonobuoys

The Navy is proposing to (1) modify the mitigation measures currently implemented for this activity by reducing the marine mammal and sea turtle mitigation zone from 1,000 yd (914 m) to 600 yd (549 m), and (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting for ease of implementation. The recommended measures are provided below.

Mitigation would include pre-exercise aerial observation and passive acoustic monitoring, which would begin 30 minutes before the first source/receiver pair detonation and continue throughout the duration of the exercise within a mitigation zone of 600 yd (549 m) around an Improved Extended Echo Ranging sonobuoy. The pre-exercise Start Printed Page 15419aerial observation would include the time it takes to deploy the sonobuoy pattern (deployment is conducted by aircraft dropping sonobuoys in the water). Explosive detonations would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the mitigation zone. Detonations would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes.

Passive acoustic monitoring would be conducted with Navy assets, such as sonobuoys, already participating in the activity. These assets would only detect vocalizing marine mammals within the frequency bands monitored by Navy personnel. Passive acoustic detections would not provide range or bearing to detected animals, and therefore cannot provide locations of these animals. Passive acoustic detections would be reported to lookouts posted in aircraft and on vessels in order to increase vigilance of their visual surveillance.

Explosive Sonobuoys Using 0.6 to 2.5 lb Net Explosive Weight

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for this activity. The Navy is proposing to add the recommended measures provided below.

Mitigation would include pre-exercise aerial monitoring during deployment of the field of sonobuoy pairs (typically up to 20 minutes) and continuing throughout the duration of the exercise within a mitigation zone of 350 yd (320 m) around an explosive sonobuoy. Explosive detonations would cease if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the mitigation zone. Detonations would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes.

Passive acoustic monitoring would also be conducted with Navy assets, such as sonobuoys, already participating in the activity. These assets would only detect vocalizing marine mammals within the frequency bands monitored by Navy personnel. Passive acoustic detections would not provide range or bearing to detected animals, and therefore cannot provide locations of these animals. Passive acoustic detections would be reported to lookouts posted in aircraft in order to increase vigilance of their visual surveillance.

Anti-Swimmer Grenades

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for this activity. The Navy is proposing to add the recommended measures provided below.

Mitigation would include visual observation from a small boat immediately before and during the exercise within a mitigation zone of 200 yd (183 m) around an anti-swimmer grenade. Explosive detonations would cease if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the mitigation zone. Detonations would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes, or (4) the activity has been repositioned more than 400 yd (366 m) away from the location of the last sighting.

Mine Countermeasure and Neutralization Activities Using Positive Control Firing Devices

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for general mine countermeasures and neutralization activities. The Navy is proposing to add the recommended measures provided below.

General mine countermeasure and neutralization activity mitigation would include visual surveillance from small boats or aircraft beginning 30 minutes before, during, and 30 minutes after the completion of the exercise within the mitigation zones around the detonation site. Explosive detonations would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the mitigation zone. Detonations would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes.

For activities involving positive control diver-placed charges, the Navy is proposing to (1) modify the currently implemented mitigation measures for activities involving up to a 20 lb net explosive weight detonation, and (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting. For comparison, the currently implemented mitigation zone for up to 10 lb net explosive weight charges is 700 yd (640 m). The recommended measures for activities involving positive control diver-placed activities are provided below.

Visual observation would be conducted by either two small boats, or one small boat in combination with one helicopter. Boats would position themselves near the mid-point of the mitigation zone radius (but always outside the detonation plume radius and human safety zone) and travel in a circular pattern around the detonation location. When using two boats, each boat would be positioned on opposite sides of the detonation location, separated by 180 degrees. If used, helicopters would travel in a circular pattern around the detonation location.

Explosive detonations would cease if a marine mammal is sighted in the water portion of the mitigation zone (i.e., not on shore). Detonations would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes. For training exercises that include the use of multiple detonations, the second (or third, etc.) detonation will occur either immediately after the preceding detonation (i.e., within 10 seconds of the preceding detonation) or after 30 minutes have passed.

Mine Neutralization Diver-Placed Mines Using Time-Delay Firing Devices

As background, when mine neutralization activities using diver-placed charges (up to a 20 lb net explosive weight) are conducted with a time-delay firing device, the detonation is fused with a specified time-delay by the personnel conducting the activity and is not authorized until the area is clear at the time the fuse is initiated. During these activities, the detonation cannot be terminated once the fuse is initiated due to human safety concerns.

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for activities using diver-placed charges (up to a 20 lb net explosive weight) with a time-delay firing device. The Navy is recommending the measures provided below.

The Navy is proposing to (1) modify the mitigation zones and observation requirements currently implemented for mine countermeasure and neutralization activities using diver-placed time-delay firing devices (up to a 10 lb net explosive weight), and (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting. For comparison, the current mitigation zones are based on size of charge and length of time-delay, ranging from a 1,000 yd (914 m) Start Printed Page 15420mitigation zone for a 5 lb net explosive weight charge using a 5-minute time-delay to a 1,400 yd (1,280 m) mitigation zone for a 10 lb net explosive weight charge using a 10-minute time-delay. The current requirement in other range complexes is for two boats to be used for observation in mitigation zones that are less than 1,400 yd (1,280 m). The recommended measures for activities involving diver-placed time-delay firing devices are provided below.

The Navy recommends one mitigation zone for all net explosive weights and lengths of time-delay. Mine neutralization activities involving diver-placed charges would not include time-delay longer than 10 min. Mitigation would include visual surveillance from small boats or aircraft commencing 30 minutes before, during, and until 30 minutes after the completion of the exercise within a mitigation zone of 1,000 yd (915 m) around the detonation site. During activities using time-delay firing devices involving up to a 20 lb net explosive weight charge, visual observation will take place using two small boats. The fuse initiation would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the water portion of the mitigation zone (i.e., not on shore). Fuse initiation would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes.

Survey boats would position themselves near the mid-point of the mitigation zone radius (but always outside the detonation plume radius/human safety zone) and travel in a circular pattern around the detonation location. One lookout from each boat would look inward toward the detonation site and the other lookout would look outward away from the detonation site. When using two small boats, each boat would be positioned on opposite sides of the detonation location, separated by 180 degrees. If available for use, helicopters would travel in a circular pattern around the detonation location.

Gunnery Exercises (Small- and Medium-Caliber Using Surface Target)

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for small- and medium-caliber gunnery using a surface target. The Navy is recommending the measures provided below.

Mitigation would include visual observation from a vessel or aircraft immediately before and during the exercise within a mitigation zone of 200 yd (183 m) around the intended impact location. Vessels would observe the mitigation zone from the firing position. When aircraft are firing, the aircrew would maintain visual watch of the mitigation zone during the activity. Firing would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the mitigation zone. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) the animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes for a firing aircraft, (4) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes for a firing ship, or (5) the intended target location has been repositioned more than 400 yd (366 m) away from the location of the last sighting.

Gunnery Exercises (Large-Caliber Using a Surface Target)

The Navy is proposing to (1) continue using the currently implemented mitigation zone for this activity, (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting, and (3) modify the seafloor habitat mitigation area. Mitigation would include visual observation from a ship immediately before and during the exercise within a mitigation zone of 600 yd (549 m) around the intended impact location. Ships would observe the mitigation zone from the firing position. Firing would cease if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the mitigation zone. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) the animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes.

Missile Exercises (Including Rockets) Up to 20 lb Net Explosive Weight Using a Surface Target

The Navy is proposing to (1) modify the mitigation measures currently implemented for this activity by reducing the mitigation zone from 1,800 yd (1.6 km) to 900 yd (823 m), (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting, and (3) modify the platform of observation to eliminate the requirement to observe when ships are firing.

When aircraft are firing, mitigation would include visual observation by the aircrew or supporting aircraft prior to commencement of the activity within a mitigation zone of 900 yd (823 m) around the deployed target. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) the animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes or 30 minutes (depending on aircraft type).

Missile Exercises From 251 to 500 lb Net Explosive Weight Using a Surface Target

The Navy is proposing to modify the mitigation measures currently implemented for this activity by increasing the mitigation zone from 1,800 yd (1.6 km) to 2,000 yd (1.8 km). When aircraft are firing, mitigation would include visual observation by the aircrew prior to commencement of the activity within a mitigation zone of 2,000 yd (1.8 km) around the intended impact location. Firing would cease if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the mitigation zone. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) the animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes or 30 minutes (depending on aircraft type).

Bombing Exercises

The Navy is proposing to (1) modify the mitigation measures currently implemented for this activity by increasing the mitigation zone from 1,000 yd. (914 m) to 2,500 yd. (2.3 km), and (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting.

Mitigation would include visual observation from the aircraft immediately before the exercise and during target approach within a mitigation zone of 2,500 yd (2.3 km) around the intended impact location. Bombing would cease if a marine mammal or sea turtle is sighted within the mitigation zone. Bombing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes.

Torpedo (Explosive) Testing

Mitigation measures do not currently exist for torpedo (explosive) testing. The Start Printed Page 15421Navy is recommending the measures provided below.

Mitigation would include visual observation by aircraft (with the exception of platforms operating at high altitudes) immediately before, during, and after the exercise within a mitigation zone of 2,100 yd (1.9 km) around the intended impact location. Firing would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the mitigation zone. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes or 30 minutes (depending on aircraft type).

In addition to visual observation, passive acoustic monitoring would be conducted with Navy assets, such as passive ships sonar systems or sonobuoys, already participating in the activity. Passive acoustic observation would be accomplished through the use of remote acoustic sensors or expendable sonobuoys, or via passive acoustic sensors on submarines when they participate in the proposed action. These assets would only detect vocalizing marine mammals within the frequency bands monitored by Navy personnel. Passive acoustic detections would not provide range or bearing to detected animals, and therefore cannot provide locations of these animals. Passive acoustic detections would be reported to the lookout posted in the aircraft in order to increase vigilance of the visual surveillance and to the person in control of the activity for their consideration in determining when the mitigation zone is free of visible marine mammals.

Sinking Exercises

The Navy is proposing to (1) modify the mitigation measures currently implemented for this activity by increasing the mitigation zone from 2.0 nm (3.7 km) to 2.5 nm (4.6 km), (2) clarify the conditions needed to recommence an activity after a sighting, and (3) adopt the marine mammal and sea turtle mitigation zone size for aggregations of jellyfish for ease of implementation. The recommended measures are provided below.

Mitigation would include visual observation within a mitigation zone of 2.5 nm (4.6 km) around the target ship hulk. Sinking exercises would include aerial observation beginning 90 minutes before the first firing, visual observations from vessels throughout the duration of the exercise, and both aerial and vessel observation immediately after any planned or unplanned breaks in weapons firing of longer than 2 hours. Prior to conducting the exercise, the Navy would review remotely sensed sea surface temperature and sea surface height maps to aid in deciding where to release the target ship hulk.

The Navy would also monitor using passive acoustics during the exercise. Passive acoustic monitoring would be conducted with Navy assets, such as passive ships sonar systems or sonobuoys, already participating in the activity. These assets would only detect vocalizing marine mammals within the frequency bands monitored by Navy personnel. Passive acoustic detections would not provide range or bearing to detected animals, and therefore cannot provide locations of these animals. Passive acoustic detections would be reported to lookouts posted in aircraft and on vessels in order to increase vigilance of their visual surveillance. Lookouts will also increase observation vigilance before the use of torpedoes or unguided ordnance with a net explosive weight of 500 lb or greater, or if the Beaufort sea state is a 4 or above.

The exercise would cease if a marine mammal, sea turtle, or aggregation of jellyfish (i.e., visible gathering of multiple jellyfish) is sighted within the mitigation zone. The exercise would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal (or jellyfish aggregation) is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal (or jellyfish aggregation) is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes. Upon sinking the vessel, the Navy would conduct post-exercise visual surveillance of the mitigation zone for 2 hours (or until sunset, whichever comes first).

Gunnery Exercises (Large Caliber)

The Navy is proposing to implement the following mitigation measure, which only applies to the firing side of the ship as provided below.

For all explosive and non-explosive large-caliber gunnery exercises conducted from a ship, mitigation would include visual observation immediately before and during the exercise within a mitigation zone of 70 yd (64 m) within 30 degrees on either side of the gun target line on the firing side. Firing would cease if a marine mammal is sighted within the mitigation zone. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions is met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes, or (4) the vessel has repositioned itself more than 140 yd (128 m) away from the location of the last sighting and the animal's estimated course direction.

Vessels and In-Water Devices

Vessel Movement—Ships would avoid approaching marine mammals head on and would maneuver to maintain a mitigation zone of 457 m around observed whales, and 183 m around all other marine mammals (except bow riding dolphins), providing it is safe to do so.

Towed In-Water Devices—The Navy would ensure towed in-water devices avoid coming within a mitigation zone of 229 m around any observed marine mammal, providing it is safe to do so.

Non-Explosive Practice Munitions

Gunnery Exercises (small, medium, and large caliber using a surface target)—Mitigation would include visual observation immediately before and during the exercise within a mitigation zone of 183 m around the intended impact location. Firing would cease if a marine mammal is visually detected within the mitigation zone. Firing would recommence if any one of the following conditions are met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes for a firing aircraft, (4) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 30 minutes for a firing ship, or (5) the intended target location has been repositioned more than 366 m away from the location of the last sighting and the animal's estimated course direction.

Bombing Exercises—Mitigation would include visual observation from the aircraft immediately before the exercise and during target approach within a mitigation zone of 914 m around the intended impact location. Bombing would cease if a marine mammal is visually detected within the mitigation zone. Bombing would recommence if any one of the following conditions are met: (1) The animal is observed exiting the mitigation zone, (2) the animal is thought to have exited the mitigation zone based on its course and speed, or (3) the mitigation zone has been clear from any additional sightings for a period of 10 minutes.Start Printed Page 15422

Cetacean and Sound Mapping

NMFS Office of Protected Resources standardly considers available information about marine mammal habitat used to inform discussions with applicants regarding potential spatio-temporal limitations of their activities that might help effect the least practicable adverse impact. Through the Cetacean and Sound Mapping effort (http://cetsound.noaa.gov/​index.html), NOAA's Cetacean Density and Distribution Mapping Working Group (CetMap) is currently involved in a process to compile available literature and solicit expert review to identify areas and times where species are known to concentrate for specific behaviors (e.g., feeding, breeding/calving, or migration) or be range-limited (e.g., small resident populations). These areas, called Biologically Important Areas (BIAs), are useful tools for planning and impact assessments and are being provided to the public via the CetSound Web site, along with a summary of the supporting information. However, areas outside of the U.S. EEZ were not evaluated as part of the BIA exercises.

Stranding Response Plan

NMFS and the Navy developed a Stranding Response Plan for MIRC in 2010 as part of the incidental take authorization process. The Stranding Response Plan is specifically intended to outline the applicable requirements in the event that a marine mammal stranding is reported in the MIRC during a major training exercise. NMFS considers all plausible causes within the course of a stranding investigation and this plan in no way presumes that any strandings in a Navy range complex are related to, or caused by, Navy training and testing activities, absent a determination made during investigation. The plan is designed to address mitigation, monitoring, and compliance. The Navy is currently working with NMFS to refine this plan for the new MITT Study Area. The current Stranding Response Plan for the MIRC is available for review here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications.

Mitigation Conclusions

NMFS has carefully evaluated the Navy's proposed mitigation measures—many of which were developed with NMFS' input during the first phase of authorizations—and considered a broad range of other measures in the context of ensuring that NMFS prescribes the means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another: The manner in which, and the degree to which, the successful implementation of the mitigation measures is expected to reduce the likelihood and/or magnitude of adverse impacts to marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat; the proven or likely efficacy of the measures; and the practicability of the suite of measures for applicant implementation, including consideration of personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity.

Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by NMFS should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to accomplishing one or more of the general goals listed below:

a. Avoid or minimize injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals b, c, and d may contribute to this goal).

b. Reduce the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to received levels of MFAS/HFAS, underwater detonations, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to a, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).

c. Reduce the number of times (total number or number at biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed to received levels of MFAS/HFAS, underwater detonations, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to a, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).

d. Reduce the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to received levels of MFAS/HFAS, underwater detonations, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to a, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only).

e. Avoid or minimize adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time.

f. For monitoring directly related to mitigation—increase the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation (shut-down zone, etc.).

Based on our evaluation of the Navy's proposed measures, as well as other measures considered by NMFS, NMFS has determined preliminarily that the Navy's proposed mitigation measures (especially when the adaptive management component is taken into consideration (see Adaptive Management, below)) are adequate means of effecting the least practicable adverse impacts on marine mammals species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, while also considering personnel safety, practicality of implementation, and impact on the effectiveness of the military readiness activity.

The proposed rule comment period provides the public an opportunity to submit recommendations, views, and/or concerns regarding this action and the proposed mitigation measures. While NMFS has determined preliminarily that the Navy's proposed mitigation measures would affect the least practicable adverse impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, NMFS will consider all public comments to help inform our final decision. Consequently, the proposed mitigation measures may be refined, modified, removed, or added to prior to the issuance of the final rule based on public comments received, and where appropriate, further analysis of any additional mitigation measures.

Proposed Monitoring and Reporting

Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA states that in order to issue an ITA for an activity, 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 LOAs 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.

Monitoring measures prescribed by NMFS should accomplish one or more of the following general goals:

  • Increase the probability of detecting marine mammals, both within the safety zone (thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation) and in general to generate more data to contribute to the analyses mentioned below.
  • Increase our understanding of how many marine mammals are likely to be Start Printed Page 15423exposed to levels of MFAS/HFAS (or explosives or other stimuli) that we associate with specific adverse effects, such as behavioral harassment, TTS, or PTS.
  • Increase our understanding of how marine mammals respond to MFAS/HFAS (at specific received levels), explosives, or other stimuli expected to result in take and how anticipated adverse effects on individuals (in different ways and to varying degrees) may impact the population, species, or stock (specifically through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival) through any of the following methods:
  • Behavioral observations in the presence of MFAS/HFAS compared to observations in the absence of sonar (need to be able to accurately predict received level and report bathymetric conditions, distance from source, and other pertinent information)
  • Physiological measurements in the presence of MFAS/HFAS compared to observations in the absence of tactical sonar (need to be able to accurately predict received level and report bathymetric conditions, distance from source, and other pertinent information)
  • Pre-planned and thorough investigation of stranding events that occur coincident to naval activities
  • Distribution and/or abundance comparisons in times or areas with concentrated MFAS/HFAS versus times or areas without MFAS/HFAS
  • Increased our knowledge of the affected species.
  • Increase our understanding of the effectiveness of certain mitigation and monitoring measures.

Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program (ICMP)

The Navy's ICMP is intended to coordinate monitoring efforts across all regions and to allocate the most appropriate level and type of effort for each range complex based on a set of standardized objectives, and in acknowledgement of regional expertise and resource availability. The ICMP is designed to be flexible, scalable, and adaptable through the adaptive management and strategic planning processes to periodically assess progress and reevaluate objectives. Although the ICMP does not specify actual monitoring field work or projects, it does establish top-level goals that have been developed in coordination with NMFS. As the ICMP is implemented, detailed and specific studies will be developed which support the Navy's top-level monitoring goals. In essence, the ICMP directs that monitoring activities relating to the effects of Navy training and testing activities on marine species should be designed to accomplish one or more top-level goals. Monitoring would address the ICMP top-level goals through a collection of specific regional and ocean basin studies based on scientific objectives. Quantitative metrics of monitoring effort (e.g., 20 days of aerial surveys) would not be a specific requirement. The adaptive management process and reporting requirements would serve as the basis for evaluating performance and compliance, primarily considering the quality of the work and results produced, as well as peer review and publications, and public dissemination of information, reports, and data. Details of the ICMP are available online (http://www.navymarinespecies monitoring.us/).

Strategic Planning Process for Marine Species Monitoring

The Navy also developed the Strategic Planning Process for Marine Species Monitoring, which establishes the guidelines and processes necessary to develop, evaluate, and fund individual projects based on objective scientific study questions. The process uses an underlying framework designed around top-level goals, a conceptual framework incorporating a progression of knowledge, and in consultation with a Scientific Advisory Group and other regional experts. The Strategic Planning Process for Marine Species Monitoring would be used to set intermediate scientific objectives, identify potential species of interest at a regional scale, and evaluate and select specific monitoring projects to fund or continue supporting for a given fiscal year. This process would also address relative investments to different range complexes based on goals across all range complexes, and monitoring would leverage multiple techniques for data acquisition and analysis whenever possible. The Strategic Planning Process for Marine Species Monitoring is also available online (http://www.navymarinespecies monitoring.us/).

Past and Current Monitoring in the MITT Study Area

NMFS has received multiple years' worth of annual exercise and monitoring reports addressing active sonar use and explosive detonations within the MIRC and other Navy range complexes. The data and information contained in these reports have been considered in developing mitigation and monitoring measures for the proposed training and testing activities within the Study Area. The Navy's annual exercise and monitoring reports may be viewed at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications and http://www.navymarinespeciesmonitoring.us. NMFS has reviewed these reports and summarized the results, as related to marine mammal monitoring, below.

1. The Navy has shown significant initiative in developing its marine species monitoring program and made considerable progress toward reaching goals and objectives of the ICMP. In 2013, the Navy developed a monitoring plan for the MIRC that focused on the goals of the ICMP by using the Strategic Planning Process to move away from a monitoring plan based on previously-used metrics of effort to a more effective one based upon evaluating progress made on monitoring questions.

2. Monitoring in the Mariana Islands presents special challenges. Past experience has proven that windward sides of islands and offshore areas are difficult to access in small vessels (HDR, 2011; Hill et al., 2011; Ligon et al., 2011). Winter conditions consistently impair field efforts. For these reasons, sighting opportunities of baleen whales are infrequent. Alternative means of collecting data that complement existing visual methodologies may help facilitate achieving data collection goals.

3. Observation data from watchstanders aboard Navy vessels is generally useful to indicate the presence or absence of marine mammals within the mitigation zones (and sometimes beyond) and to document the implementation of mitigation measures, but does not provide useful species-specific information or behavioral data.

4. Data gathered by experienced marine mammal observers in a Navy-wide monitoring program across multiple ranges can provide very valuable information at a level of detail not possible with watchstanders.

5. Though it is by no means conclusive, it is worth noting that no instances of obvious behavioral disturbance have been observed by Navy watchstanders or experienced marine mammal observers conducting visual monitoring.

6. Visual surveys generally provide suitable data for addressing questions of distribution and abundance of marine mammals, but are much less effective at providing information on movement patterns, habitat use, and behavior, with a few notable exceptions where sightings are most frequent. A pilot study on shore-based visual observations showed potential as an alternative visual methodology for some windward shores that are less accessible to small boats due to prevailing weather conditions.Start Printed Page 15424

7. Satellite tagging has proven to be a valuable tool for addressing questions of marine mammal movement patterns and habitat use of various species in Navy monitoring efforts across the Pacific. Recently, this technique has proven to be particularly valuable in the MIRC (Hill et al., 2013), and provides data on these questions for infrequently-encountered species even when a wide body of visual survey data does not exist.

8. Passive acoustics has significant potential for applications addressing animal movements and behavioral response to Navy training activities, but require a longer time horizon and heavy investment in analysis to produce relevant results. The estimated time required is particularly long in MIRC compared to other Navy ranges because relatively little is known about the features of marine mammal vocalizations specific to populations found in the waters of the MIRC. This knowledge can only be gained by gradual long-term accumulation of a body of acoustic recordings made of animals that have been visually-verified to species.

Navy-funded monitoring accomplishments in the MIRC from 2010 to 2013 are provided in the Navy's monitoring reports, as required by the 2010 rulemaking and available here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications. Navy marine species monitoring conducted in the MIRC since 2010 utilized a combination of visual line-transect surveys, non-random/non-systematic visual surveys, satellite tagging, biopsy, shore-based visual surveys, analysis of archived acoustic data, and deployment of autonomous passive acoustic monitoring devices. Following is a summary of the work conducted:

  • Collected and analyzed thousands of cetacean photos taken during all Marianas surveys;
  • Analyzed acoustic recordings from both towed arrays and moored passive acoustic monitoring devices, including archived datasets and Navy-funded deployments;
  • Conducted visual surveys or shore based surveys around Guam, Tinian, Rota, Aguijan and Saipan, and funded observers on offshore line transect surveys that crossed the MIRC;
  • Purchased, deployed, and analyzed data from satellite tags;
  • Collected and analyzed biopsy samples for population structure analysis; and
  • Funded NMFS to catalog all photos collected since 2007, including performing mark-recapture population analysis.

Navy and Navy/NMFS collaborative surveys have been conducted in the Study Area since 2007. Most recently, Hill et al. (2013) reported 17 cetacean sightings during 11 surveys off Guam and 20 cetacean sightings over the course of 20 surveys of the CNMI. Seventy-two percent of sightings in waters of the CNMI occurred in the waters surrounding the islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Aguijan. However, the encounter rate around the island of Rota was greater than elsewhere in the survey area, and species sighted at Rota were in approximately the same location when they were sighted during surveys conducted in 2011, suggesting that the area is consistently used by those species. The Navy's recent photo-ID analysis shows that individual short-finned pilot whales, spinner dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins are moving between islands. Data collection and analysis within this area is ongoing. There have been no reported observations of adverse reactions by marine mammals and no dead or injured animals reported associated with Navy training activities in the MIRC. The U.S. Pacific Fleet funding share as part of the overall Navy-wide funding in marine mammal research and monitoring in the MIRC was over $1.4 million from 2010 to 2012.

Proposed Monitoring for the MITT Study Area

Based on discussions between the Navy and NMFS, future monitoring should address the ICMP top-level goals through a collection of specific regional and ocean basin studies based on scientific objectives. Quantitative metrics of monitoring effort (e.g., 20 days of aerial survey) would not be a specific requirement. Monitoring would follow the strategic planning process and conclusions from adaptive management review by diverging from non-quantitative metrics of monitoring effort towards the primary mandate of setting progress goals addressing specific scientific monitoring questions. The adaptive management process and reporting requirements would serve as the basis for evaluating performance and compliance, primarily considering the quality of the work and results produced, as well as peer review and publications, and public dissemination of information, reports, and data. The strategic planning process would be used to set intermediate scientific objectives, identify potential species of interest at a regional scale, and evaluate and select specific monitoring projects to fund or continue supporting for a given fiscal year. The strategic planning process would also address relative investments to different range complexes based on goals across all range complexes, and monitoring would leverage multiple techniques for data acquisition and analysis whenever possible.

The SAG confirmed the Navy/NMFS decision made in 2009 that because so little is known about species occurrence in this area, the priority for the MIRC should be establishing basic marine mammal occurrence. Passive acoustic monitoring, small boat surveys, biopsy sampling, satellite tagging, and photo-identification are all appropriate methods for evaluating marine mammal occurrence and abundance in the MITT Study Area. Fixed acoustic monitoring and development of local expertise ranked highest among the SAG's recommended monitoring methods for the area. There is an especially high level of return for monitoring around the Mariana Islands because so little is currently known about this region. Specific monitoring efforts would result from future Navy/NMFS monitoring program management.

Ongoing Navy Research

The Navy is one of the world's leading organizations in assessing the effects of human activities on the marine environment, and provides a significant amount of funding and support to marine research, outside of the monitoring required by their incidental take authorizations. They also develop approaches to ensure that these resources are minimally impacted by current and future Navy operations. Navy scientists work cooperatively with other government researchers and scientists, universities, industry, and non-governmental conservation organizations in collecting, evaluating, and modeling information on marine resources, including working towards a better understanding of marine mammals and sound. From 2004 to 2012, the Navy has provided over $230 million for marine species research. The Navy sponsors 70 percent of all U.S. research concerning the effects of human-generated sound on marine mammals and 50 percent of such research conducted worldwide. Major topics of Navy-supported marine species research directly applicable to proposed activities within the MITT Study Area include the following:

  • Better understanding of marine species distribution and important habitat areas;
  • Developing methods to detect and monitor marine species before, during, and after training and testing activities;Start Printed Page 15425
  • Better understanding the impacts of sound on marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, and birds; and
  • Developing tools to model and estimate potential impacts of sound.

It is imperative that the Navy's research and development (R&D) efforts related to marine mammals are conducted in an open, transparent manner with validated study needs and requirements. The goal of the Navy's R&D program is to enable collection and publication of scientifically valid research as well as development of techniques and tools for Navy, academic, and commercial use. The two Navy organizations that account for most funding and oversight of the Navy marine mammal research program are the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Marine Mammals and Biology Program, and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Energy and Environmental Readiness Division (N45) Living Marine Resources (LMR) Program. The primary focus of these programs has been on understanding the effects of sound on marine mammals, including physiological, behavioral and ecological effects.

The ONR Marine Mammals and Biology Program supports basic and applied research and technology development related to understanding the effects of sound on marine mammals, including physiological, behavioral, ecological, and population-level effects. Current program thrusts include:

  • Monitoring and detection;
  • Integrated ecosystem research including sensor and tag development;
  • Effects of sound on marine life including hearing, behavioral response studies, diving and stress physiology, and Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance (PCAD); and
  • Models and databases for environmental compliance.

To manage some of the Navy's marine mammal research programmatic elements, OPNAV N45 developed in 2011 a new Living Marine Resources (LMR) Research and Development Program. The mission of the LMR program is to develop, demonstrate, and assess information and technology solutions to protect living marine resources by minimizing the environmental risks of Navy at-sea training and testing activities while preserving core Navy readiness capabilities. This mission is accomplished by:

  • Improving knowledge of the status and trends of marine species of concern and the ecosystems of which they are a part;
  • Developing the scientific basis for the criteria and thresholds to measure the effects of Navy generated sound;
  • Improving understanding of underwater sound and sound field characterization unique to assessing the biological consequences resulting from underwater sound (as opposed to tactical applications of underwater sound or propagation loss modeling for military communications or tactical applications); and
  • Developing technologies and methods to monitor and, where possible, mitigate biologically significant consequences to living marine resources resulting from naval activities, emphasizing those consequences that are most likely to be biologically significant.

The program is focused on three primary objectives that influence program management priorities and directly affect the program's success in accomplishing its mission:

1. Collect, Validate, and Rank R&D Needs: Expand awareness of R&D program opportunities within the Navy marine resource community to encourage and facilitate the submittal of well-defined and appropriate needs statements.

2. Address High Priority Needs: Ensure that program investments and the resulting projects maintain a direct and consistent link to the defined user needs.

3. Transition Solutions and Validate Benefits: Maximize the number of program-derived solutions that are successfully transitioned to the Fleet and system commands.

The LMR program primarily invests in the following areas:

  • Developing Data to Support Risk Threshold Criteria;
  • Improved Data Collection on Protected Species, Critical Habitat within Navy Ranges;
  • New Monitoring and Mitigation Technology Demonstrations;
  • Database and Model Development; and
  • Education and Outreach, Emergent Opportunities.

LMR currently supports the Marine Mammal Monitoring on Ranges program at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai and, along with ONR, the multi-year Southern California Behavioral Response Study (http://www.socal-brs.org). This type of research helps in understanding the marine environment and the effects that may arise from underwater noise in oceans. Further, NMFS is working on a long-term stranding study that will be supported by the Navy by way of a funding and information sharing component (see below).

Navy Research and Development

Navy Funded—At this time, there are no LMR or ONR funded research and development projects in the MITT Study Area. However, when projects are initiated, the Navy's monitoring program will be coordinated with the research and development monitoring program to leverage research objectives, assets, and studies where possible under the ICMP.

Other National Department of Defense Funded Initiatives—The Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP) and Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) are the Department of Defense's environmental research programs, harnessing the latest science and technology to improve environmental performance, reduce costs, and enhance and sustain mission capabilities. The programs respond to environmental technology requirements common to all military services, complementing the services' research programs. SERDP and ESTCP promote partnerships and collaboration among academia, industry, the military services, and other federal agencies. They are independent programs managed from a joint office to coordinate the full spectrum of efforts, from basic and applied research to field demonstration and validation.

Adaptive Management

The final regulations governing the take of marine mammals incidental to Navy training and testing activities in the MITT Study Area would contain an adaptive management component carried over from previous authorizations. Although better than 5 years ago, our understanding of the effects of Navy training and testing activities (e.g., mid- and high-frequency active sonar, underwater detonations) on marine mammals is still relatively limited, and yet the science in this field is evolving fairly quickly. These circumstances make the inclusion of an adaptive management component both valuable and necessary within the context of 5-year regulations for activities that have been associated with marine mammal mortality in certain circumstances and locations.

The reporting requirements associated with this proposed rule are designed to provide NMFS with monitoring data from the previous year to allow NMFS to consider whether any changes are appropriate. NMFS and the Navy would meet to discuss the monitoring reports, Navy R&D developments, and current Start Printed Page 15426science and whether mitigation or monitoring modifications are appropriate. The use of adaptive management allows NMFS to consider new information from different sources to determine (with input from the Navy regarding practicability) on an annual or biennial basis if mitigation or monitoring measures should be modified (including additions or deletions). Mitigation measures could be modified if new data suggests that such modifications would have a reasonable likelihood of reducing adverse effects to marine mammals and if the measures are practicable.

The following are some of the possible sources of applicable data to be considered through the adaptive management process: (1) Results from monitoring and exercises reports, as required by MMPA authorizations; (2) compiled results of Navy funded R&D studies; (3) results from specific stranding investigations; (4) results from general marine mammal and sound research; and (5) any information which reveals that marine mammals may have been taken in a manner, extent, or number not authorized by these regulations or subsequent LOAs.

Proposed Reporting Measures

In order to issue an ITA for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA states that NMFS must set forth “requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.” Effective reporting is critical both to compliance as well as ensuring that the most value is obtained from the required monitoring. Some of the reporting requirements are still in development and the final rulemaking may contain additional details not contained here. Additionally, proposed reporting requirements may be modified, removed, or added based on information or comments received during the public comment period. Reports from individual monitoring events, results of analyses, publications, and periodic progress reports for specific monitoring projects would be posted to the Navy's Marine Species Monitoring web portal: http://www.navymarinespeciesmonitoring.us. Currently, there are several different reporting requirements pursuant to these proposed regulations:

General Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals—Navy personnel would ensure that NMFS (the appropriate Regional Stranding Coordinator) is notified immediately (or as soon as clearance procedures allow) if an injured or dead marine mammal is found during or shortly after, and in the vicinity of, any Navy training exercise utilizing mid-frequency active sonar, high-frequency active sonar, or underwater explosive detonations. The Navy would provide NMFS with species identification or a description of the animal(s), the condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the animal is dead), location, time of first discovery, observed behaviors (if alive), and photographs or video (if available). The MITT Stranding Response Plan contains further reporting requirements for specific circumstances (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Annual Monitoring and Exercise Reports—As noted above, reports from individual monitoring events, results of analyses, publications, and periodic progress reports for specific monitoring projects would be posted to the Navy's Marine Species Monitoring web portal and NMFS' Web site as they become available. Progress and results from all monitoring activity conducted within the MITT Study Area, as well as required Major Training Event exercise activity, would be summarized in an annual report. A draft report would be submitted either 90 days after the calendar year or 90 days after the conclusion of the monitoring year, date to be determined by the adaptive management review process. In the past, each annual report has summarized data for a single year. At the Navy's suggestion, future annual reports would take a cumulative approach in that each report will compare data from that year to all previous years. For example, the third annual report will include data from the third year and compare it to data from the first and second years. This will provide an ongoing cumulative look at the Navy's annual monitoring and exercise and testing reports and eliminate the need for a separate comprehensive monitoring and exercise summary report at the end of the 5-year period.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

In the potential effects section, NMFS' analysis identified the lethal responses, physical trauma, sensory impairment (PTS, TTS, and acoustic masking), physiological responses (particular stress responses), and behavioral responses that could potentially result from exposure to mid- and high-frequency active sonar or underwater explosive detonations. In this section, we will relate the potential effects to marine mammals from mid- and high-frequency active sonar and underwater detonation of explosives to the MMPA regulatory definitions of Level A and Level B harassment and attempt to quantify the effects that might occur from the proposed training and testing activities in the Study Area.

As mentioned previously, behavioral responses are context-dependent, complex, and influenced to varying degrees by a number of factors other than just received level. For example, an animal may respond differently to a sound emanating from a ship that is moving towards the animal than it would to an identical received level coming from a vessel that is moving away, or to a ship traveling at a different speed or at a different distance from the animal. At greater distances, though, the nature of vessel movements could also potentially not have any effect on the animal's response to the sound. In any case, a full description of the suite of factors that elicited a behavioral response would require a mention of the vicinity, speed and movement of the vessel, or other factors. So, while sound sources and the received levels are the primary focus of the analysis and those that are laid out quantitatively in the regulatory text, it is with the understanding that other factors related to the training are sometimes contributing to the behavioral responses of marine mammals, although they cannot be quantified.

Definition of Harassment

As mentioned previously, with respect to military readiness activities, section 3(18)(B) of the MMPA defines “harassment” as: (i) Any act that injures or has the significant potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A Harassment]; or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered [Level B Harassment].

Level B Harassment

Of the potential effects that were described earlier in this document, the following are the types of effects that fall into the Level B harassment category:

Behavioral Harassment—Behavioral disturbance that rises to the level described in the definition above, when resulting from exposures to non-impulsive or impulsive sound, is considered Level B harassment. Some of the lower level physiological stress responses discussed earlier would also likely co-occur with the predicted harassments, although these responses Start Printed Page 15427are more difficult to detect and fewer data exist relating these responses to specific received levels of sound. When Level B harassment is predicted based on estimated behavioral responses, those takes may have a stress-related physiological component as well.

Earlier in this document, we described the Southall et al., (2007) severity scaling system and listed some examples of the three broad categories of behaviors: 0-3 (Minor and/or brief behaviors); 4-6 (Behaviors with higher potential to affect foraging, reproduction, or survival); 7-9 (Behaviors considered likely to affect the aforementioned vital rates). Generally speaking, MMPA Level B harassment, as defined in this document, would include the behaviors described in the 7-9 category, and a subset, dependent on context and other considerations, of the behaviors described in the 4-6 category. Behavioral harassment does not generally include behaviors ranked 0-3 in Southall et al., (2007).

Acoustic Masking and Communication Impairment—Acoustic masking is considered Level B harassment as it can disrupt natural behavioral patterns by interrupting or limiting the marine mammal's receipt or transmittal of important information or environmental cues.

Temporary Threshold Shift (TTS)—As discussed previously, TTS can affect how an animal behaves in response to the environment, including conspecifics, predators, and prey. The following physiological mechanisms are thought to play a role in inducing auditory fatigue: effects to sensory hair cells in the inner ear that reduce their sensitivity; modification of the chemical environment within the sensory cells; residual muscular activity in the middle ear, displacement of certain inner ear membranes; increased blood flow; and post-stimulatory reduction in both efferent and sensory neural output. Ward (1997) suggested that when these effects result in TTS rather than PTS, they are within the normal bounds of physiological variability and tolerance and do not represent a physical injury. Additionally, Southall et al. (2007) indicate that although PTS is a tissue injury, TTS is not because the reduced hearing sensitivity following exposure to intense sound results primarily from fatigue, not loss, of cochlear hair cells and supporting structures and is reversible. Accordingly, NMFS classifies TTS (when resulting from exposure to sonar and other active acoustic sources and explosives and other impulsive sources) as Level B harassment, not Level A harassment (injury).

Level A Harassment

Of the potential effects that were described earlier, following are the types of effects that fall into the Level A Harassment category:

Permanent Threshold Shift (PTS)—PTS (resulting either from exposure to MFAS/HFAS or explosive detonations) is irreversible and considered an injury. PTS results from exposure to intense sounds that cause a permanent loss of inner or outer cochlear hair cells or exceed the elastic limits of certain tissues and membranes in the middle and inner ears and result in changes in the chemical composition of the inner ear fluids.

Tissue Damage due to Acoustically Mediated Bubble Growth—A few theories suggest ways in which gas bubbles become enlarged through exposure to intense sounds (MFAS/HFAS) to the point where tissue damage results. In rectified diffusion, exposure to a sound field would cause bubbles to increase in size. A short duration of sonar pings (such as that which an animal exposed to MFAS would be most likely to encounter) would not likely be long enough to drive bubble growth to any substantial size. Alternately, bubbles could be destabilized by high-level sound exposures such that bubble growth then occurs through static diffusion of gas out of the tissues. The degree of supersaturation and exposure levels observed to cause microbubble destabilization are unlikely to occur, either alone or in concert because of how close an animal would need to be to the sound source to be exposed to high enough levels, especially considering the likely avoidance of the sound source and the required mitigation. Still, possible tissue damage from either of these processes would be considered an injury.

Tissue Damage due to Behaviorally Mediated Bubble Growth—Several authors suggest mechanisms by which marine mammals could behaviorally respond to exposure to MFAS/HFAS by altering their dive patterns (unusually rapid ascent, unusually long series of surface dives, etc.) in a manner that might result in unusual bubble formation or growth ultimately resulting in tissue damage. In this scenario, the rate of ascent would need to be sufficiently rapid to compromise behavioral or physiological protections against nitrogen bubble formation. There is considerable disagreement among scientists as to the likelihood of this phenomenon (Piantadosi and Thalmann, 2004; Evans and Miller, 2003). Although it has been argued that traumas from recent beaked whale strandings are consistent with gas emboli and bubble-induced tissue separations (Jepson et al., 2003; Fernandez et al., 2005), nitrogen bubble formation as the cause of the traumas has not been verified. If tissue damage does occur by this phenomenon, it would be considered an injury.

Physical Disruption of Tissues Resulting from Explosive Shock Wave—Physical damage of tissues resulting from a shock wave (from an explosive detonation) is classified as an injury. Blast effects are greatest at the gas-liquid interface (Landsberg, 2000) and gas-containing organs, particularly the lungs and gastrointestinal tract, are especially susceptible (Goertner, 1982; Hill 1978; Yelverton et al., 1973). Nasal sacs, larynx, pharynx, trachea, and lungs may be damaged by compression/expansion caused by the oscillations of the blast gas bubble (Reidenberg and Laitman, 2003). Severe damage (from the shock wave) to the ears can include tympanic membrane rupture, fracture of the ossicles, damage to the cochlea, hemorrhage, and cerebrospinal fluid leakage into the middle ear.

Vessel or Ordnance Strike—Vessel strike or ordnance strike associated with the specified activities would be considered Level A harassment, serious injury, or mortality.

Take Thresholds

For the purposes of an MMPA authorization, three types of take are identified: Level B harassment; Level A harassment; and mortality (or serious injury leading to mortality). The categories of marine mammal responses (physiological and behavioral) that fall into the two harassment categories were described in the previous section.

Because the physiological and behavioral responses of the majority of the marine mammals exposed to non-impulse and impulse sounds cannot be easily detected or measured, and because NMFS must authorize take prior to the impacts to marine mammals, a method is needed to estimate the number of individuals that will be taken, pursuant to the MMPA, based on the proposed action. To this end, NMFS developed acoustic thresholds that estimate at what received level (when exposed to non-impulse or impulse sounds) Level B harassment and Level A harassment of marine mammals would occur. The acoustic thresholds for non-impulse and impulse sounds are discussed below.

Level B Harassment Threshold (TTS)—Behavioral disturbance, acoustic masking, and TTS are all considered Level B harassment. Marine mammals would usually be behaviorally disturbed Start Printed Page 15428at lower received levels than those at which they would likely sustain TTS, so the levels at which behavioral disturbance are likely to occur is considered the onset of Level B harassment. The behavioral responses of marine mammals to sound are variable, context specific, and, therefore, difficult to quantify (see Risk Function section, below). Alternately, TTS is a physiological effect that has been studied and quantified in laboratory conditions. Because data exist to support an estimate of the received levels at which marine mammals will incur TTS, NMFS uses acoustic thresholds to estimate the number of marine mammals that might sustain TTS. TTS is a subset of Level B Harassment (along with sub-TTS behavioral harassment) and we are not specifically required to estimate those numbers; however, the more specifically we can estimate the affected marine mammal responses, the better the analysis.

Level A Harassment Threshold (PTS)—For acoustic effects, because the tissues of the ear appear to be the most susceptible to the physiological effects of sound, and because threshold shifts tend to occur at lower exposures than other more serious auditory effects, NMFS has determined that PTS is the best indicator for the smallest degree of injury that can be measured. Therefore, the acoustic exposure associated with onset-PTS is used to define the lower limit of Level A harassment.

PTS data do not currently exist for marine mammals and are unlikely to be obtained due to ethical concerns. However, PTS levels for these animals may be estimated using TTS data from marine mammals and relationships between TTS and PTS that have been determined through study of terrestrial mammals.

We note here that behaviorally mediated injuries (such as those that have been hypothesized as the cause of some beaked whale strandings) could potentially occur in response to received levels lower than those believed to directly result in tissue damage. As mentioned previously, data to support a quantitative estimate of these potential effects (for which the exact mechanism is not known and in which factors other than received level may play a significant role) does not exist. However, based on the number of years (more than 60) and number of hours of MFAS per year that the U.S. (and other countries) has operated compared to the reported (and verified) cases of associated marine mammal strandings, NMFS believes that the probability of these types of injuries is very low. Tables 10 and 11 provide a summary of non-impulsive thresholds to TTS and PTS for marine mammals. A detailed explanation of how these thresholds were derived is provided in the MITT DEIS/OEIS Criteria and Thresholds Technical Report (http://mitt-eis.com/​DocumentsandReferences/​EISDocuments/​SupportingTechnicalDocuments.aspx) and summarized in Chapter 6 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Table 10—Onset TTS and PTS Thresholds for Non-Impulse Sound

GroupSpeciesOnset TTSOnset PTS
Low-Frequency CetaceansAll mysticetes178 dB re 1µPa2-sec(LFII)198 dB re 1µPa2-sec(LFII).
Mid-Frequency CetaceansMost delphinids, beaked whales, medium and large toothed whales178 dB re 1µPa2-sec(MFII)198 dB re 1µPa2-sec(MFII).
High-Frequency CetaceansPorpoises, Kogia spp.152 dB re 1µPa2-sec(HFII)172 dB re 1µPa2-secSEL (HFII).
LFII, MFII, HFII: New compound Type II weighting functions.

Table 11—Impulsive Sound Explosive Thresholds for Predicting Injury and Mortality

GroupSpeciesSlight injuryMortality
PTSGI TractLung
Low-Frequency CetaceansAll mysticetes187 dB SEL (LFII) or 230 dB Peak SPL237 dB SPL or 104 psiEquation 1Equation 2.
Mid-Frequency CetaceansMost delphinids, medium and large toothed whales187 dB SEL (MFII) or 230 dB Peak SPL.
High-Frequency CetaceansPorpoises and Kogia spp.161 dB SEL (HFII) or 201dB Peak SPL.

Equation 1: = 39.1M1/3 (1+[DRm/10.081])1/2 Pa-sec

Equation 2: = 91.4M1/3 (1+[DRm/10.081])1/2 Pa-sec

Where:

M = mass of the animals in kg

DRm = depth of the receiver (animal) in meters

Level B Harassment Risk Function (Behavioral Harassment)—In 2006, NMFS issued the first MMPA authorization to allow the take of marine mammals incidental to MFAS (to the Navy for RIMPAC). For that authorization, NMFS used 173 dB SEL as the criterion for the onset of behavioral harassment (Level B Harassment). This type of single number criterion is referred to as a step function, in which (in this example) all animals estimated to be exposed to received levels above 173 db SEL would be predicted to be taken by Level B Harassment and all animals exposed to less than 173 dB SEL would not be taken by Level B Harassment. As mentioned previously, marine mammal behavioral responses to sound are highly variable and context specific (affected by differences in acoustic conditions; differences between species and populations; differences in gender, age, reproductive status, or social behavior; or the prior experience of the individuals), which does not support the use of a step function to estimate behavioral harassment.

Unlike step functions, acoustic risk continuum functions (which are also called “exposure-response functions” or “dose-response functions” in other risk assessment contexts) allow for probability of a response that NMFS would classify as harassment to occur Start Printed Page 15429over a range of possible received levels (instead of one number) and assume that the probability of a response depends first on the “dose” (in this case, the received level of sound) and that the probability of a response increases as the “dose” increases (see Figure 1a). In January 2009, NMFS issued three final rules governing the incidental take of marine mammals (within Navy's HRC, SOCAL, and Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training (AFAST)) that used a risk continuum to estimate the percent of marine mammals exposed to various levels of MFAS that would respond in a manner NMFS considers harassment.

The Navy and NMFS have previously used acoustic risk functions to estimate the probable responses of marine mammals to acoustic exposures for other training and research programs. Examples of previous application include the Navy FEISs on the SURTASS LFA sonar (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2001c); the North Pacific Acoustic Laboratory experiments conducted off the Island of Kauai (Office of Naval Research, 2001), and the Supplemental EIS for SURTASS LFA sonar (U.S. Department of the Navy, 2007d). As discussed earlier, factors other than received level (such as distance from or bearing to the sound source, context of animal at time of exposure) can affect the way that marine mammals respond; however, data to support a quantitative analysis of those (and other factors) do not currently exist. NMFS will continue to modify these thresholds as new data become available and can be appropriately and effectively incorporated.

The particular acoustic risk functions developed by NMFS and the Navy (see Figures 1a and 1b) estimate the probability of behavioral responses to MFAS/HFAS (interpreted as the percentage of the exposed population) that NMFS would classify as harassment for the purposes of the MMPA given exposure to specific received levels of MFAS/HFAS. The mathematical function (below) underlying this curve is a cumulative probability distribution adapted from a solution in Feller (1968) and was also used in predicting risk for the Navy's SURTASS LFA MMPA authorization as well.

Where:

R = Risk (0-1.0)

L = Received level (dB re: 1 µPa)

B = Basement received level = 120 dB re: 1 µPa

K = Received level increment above B where 50-percent risk = 45 dB re: 1 µPa

A = Risk transition sharpness parameter = 10 (odontocetes) or 8 (mysticetes)

Detailed information on the above equation and its parameters is available in the MITT DEIS/OEIS and previous Navy documents listed above.

The inclusion of a special behavioral response criterion for beaked whales of the family Ziphiidae is new to these criteria. It has been speculated that beaked whales might have unusual sensitivities to sonar sound due to their likelihood of stranding in conjunction with MFAS use, even in areas where other species were more abundant (D'Amico et al. 2009), but there were not sufficient data to support a separate treatment for beaked whales until recently. With the recent publication of results from Blainville's beaked whale monitoring and experimental exposure studies on the instrumented Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center range in the Bahamas (McCarthy et al. 2011; Tyack et al. 2011), there are now statistically strong data suggesting that beaked whales tend to avoid both actual naval MFAS in real anti-submarine training scenarios as well as sonar-like signals and other signals used during controlled sound exposure studies in the same area. An unweighted 140 dB re 1 μPa sound pressure level threshold has been proposed by the Navy for significant behavioral effects for all beaked whales (family: Ziphiidae).

If more than one explosive event occurs within any given 24-hour period within a training or testing event, behavioral thresholds are applied to predict the number of animals that may be taken by Level B harassment. For multiple explosive events the behavioral threshold used in this analysis is 5 dB less than the TTS onset threshold (in sound exposure level). This value is derived from observed onsets of behavioral response by test subjects (bottlenose dolphins) during non-impulse TTS testing (Schlundt et al. 2000). Some multiple explosive events, such as certain naval gunnery exercises, may be treated as a single impulsive event because a few explosions occur closely spaced within a very short period of time (a few seconds). For single impulses at received sound levels below hearing loss thresholds, the most likely behavioral response is a brief alerting or orienting response. Since no further sounds follow the initial brief impulses, Level B take in the form of behavioral harassment beyond that associated with potential TTS would not be expected to occur. Explosive thresholds are summarized in Table 12 and further detailed in the Navy's LOA application.

Since impulse events can be quite short, it may be possible to accumulate multiple received impulses at sound pressure levels considerably above the energy-based criterion and still not be considered a behavioral take. The Navy treats all individual received impulses as if they were one second long for the purposes of calculating cumulative sound exposure level for multiple impulse events. For example, five air gun impulses, each 0.1 second long, received at 178 dB sound pressure level would equal a 175 dB sound exposure level, and would not be predicted as leading to a take. However, if the five 0.1-second pulses are treated as a 5-second exposure, it would yield an adjusted value of approximately 180 dB, exceeding the threshold. For impulses associated with explosions that have durations of a few microseconds, this assumption greatly overestimates effects based on sound exposure level metrics such as TTS and PTS and behavioral responses. Appropriate weighting values will be applied to the received impulse in one-third octave bands and the energy summed to produce a total weighted sound exposure level value. For impulsive behavioral criteria, the Navy's proposed weighting functions (detailed in the LOA application) are applied to the received sound level before being compared to the threshold.

Table 12—Explosive Thresholds

GroupSpeciesSlight injuryMortality
PTSGI TractLung
Low-Frequency CetaceansAll mysticetes187 dB SEL (LFII) or 230 dB Peak SPL237 dB SPL or 104 psiEquation 1Equation 2.
Start Printed Page 15430
Mid-Frequency CetaceansMost delphinids, medium and large toothed whales187 dB SEL (MFII) or 230 dB Peak SPL
High-Frequency CetaceansPorpoises and Kogia spp161 dB SEL (HFII) or 201 dB Peak SPL

Marine Mammal Density Estimates

A quantitative analysis of impacts on a species requires data on the abundance and distribution of the species population in the potentially impacted area. One metric for performing this type of analysis is density, which is the number of animals present per unit area. The Navy compiled existing, publically available density data for use in the quantitative acoustic impact analysis. There is no single source of density data for every area of the world, species, and season because of the costs, resources, and effort required to provide adequate survey coverage to sufficiently estimate density. Therefore, to estimate marine mammal densities for large areas like the MITT Study Area, the Navy compiled data from several sources. The Navy developed a hierarchy of density data sources to select the best available data based on species, area, and time (season). The resulting Geographic Information System database, called the Navy Marine Species Density Database, includes seasonal density values for every marine mammal species present within the MITT Study Area (DoN, 2013).

The primary data source for the MITT Study Area is the Navy-funded 2007 line-transect survey, which provides the only published density estimates based upon systematic sighting data collected specifically in this region (Fulling et al., 2011). However, the source for density estimates for each species in provided in Table 3-2 of the Navy's LOA application.

Quantitative Modeling for Impulsive and Non-Impulsive Sound

The Navy performed a quantitative analysis to estimate the number of marine mammals that could be harassed by acoustic sources or explosives used during Navy training and testing activities. Inputs to the quantitative analysis included marine mammal density estimates; marine mammal depth occurrence distributions; oceanographic and environmental data; marine mammal hearing data; and criteria and thresholds for levels of potential effects. The quantitative analysis consists of computer-modeled estimates and a post-model analysis to determine the number of potential mortalities and harassments. The model calculates sound energy propagation from sonars, other active acoustic sources, and explosives during naval activities; the sound or impulse received by animat dosimeters representing marine mammals distributed in the area around the modeled activity; and whether the sound or impulse received by a marine mammal exceeds the thresholds for effects. The model estimates are then further analyzed to consider animal avoidance and implementation of mitigation measures, resulting in final estimates of effects due to Navy training and testing. This process results in a reduction to take numbers and is detailed in Chapter 6 (section 6.3) of the Navy's application.

A number of computer models and mathematical equations can be used to predict how energy spreads from a sound source (e.g. sonar or underwater detonation) to a receiver (e.g. dolphin or sea turtle). Basic underwater sound models calculate the overlap of energy and marine life using assumptions that account for the many, variable, and often unknown factors that can greatly influence the result. Assumptions in previous Navy models have intentionally erred on the side of overestimation when there are unknowns or when the addition of other variables was not likely to substantively change the final analysis. For example, because the ocean environment is extremely dynamic and information is often limited to a synthesis of data gathered over wide areas and requiring many years of research, known information tends to be an average of a seasonal or annual variation. The Equatorial Pacific El Nino disruption of the ocean-atmosphere system is an example of dynamic change where unusually warm ocean temperatures are likely to redistribute marine life and alter the propagation of underwater sound energy. Previous Navy modeling therefore made some assumptions indicative of a maximum theoretical propagation for sound energy (such as a perfectly reflective ocean surface and a flat seafloor). More complex computer models build upon basic modeling by factoring in additional variables in an effort to be more accurate by accounting for such things as bathymetry and an animal's likely presence at various depths.

The Navy has developed a set of data and new software tools for quantification of estimated marine mammal impacts from Navy activities. This new approach is the resulting evolution of the basic model previously used by the Navy and reflects a more complex modeling approach as described below. Although this more complex computer modeling approach accounts for various environmental factors affecting acoustic propagation, the current software tools do not consider the likelihood that a marine mammal would attempt to avoid repeated exposures to a sound or avoid an area of intense activity where a training or testing event may be focused. Additionally, the software tools do not consider the implementation of mitigation (e.g., stopping sonar transmissions when a marine mammal is within a certain distance of a ship or range clearance prior to detonations). In both of these situations, naval activities are modeled as though an activity would occur regardless of proximity to marine mammals and without any horizontal movement by the animal away from the sound source or human activities (e.g., without accounting for likely animal avoidance). Therefore, the final step of the quantitative analysis of acoustic effects is to consider the implementation of mitigation and the possibility that marine mammals would avoid continued or repeated sound exposures.Start Printed Page 15431

The steps of the quantitative analysis of acoustic effects, the values that went into the Navy's model, and the resulting ranges to effects are detailed in Chapter 6 of the Navy's LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Take Request

The MITT DEIS/OEIS considered all training and testing activities proposed to occur in the Study Area that have the potential to result in the MMPA defined take of marine mammals. The stressors associated with these activities included the following:

  • Acoustic (sonar and other active acoustic sources, explosives, weapons firing, launch and impact noise, vessel noise, aircraft noise);
  • Energy (electromagnetic devices);
  • Physical disturbance or strikes (vessels, in-water devices, military expended materials, seafloor devices);
  • Entanglement (fiber optic cables, guidance wires, parachutes);
  • Ingestion (munitions, military expended materials other than munitions);
  • Indirect stressors (impacts to habitat [sediment and water quality, air quality] or prey availability).

The Navy determined, and NMFS agrees, that three stressors could potentially result in the incidental taking of marine mammals from training and testing activities within the Study Area: (1) Non-impulse acoustic stressors (sonar and other active acoustic sources), (2) impulse acoustic stressors (explosives), and (3) vessel strikes. Non-impulsive stressors have the potential to result in incidental takes of marine mammals by Level A or Level B harassment. Impulsive acoustic stressors have the potential to result in incidental takes of marine mammals by harassment, injury, or mortality. Vessel strikes have the potential to result in incidental take from direct injury and/or mortality.

Training and Testing Activities—Based on the Navy's model and post-model analysis (described in detail in Chapter 6 of their LOA application), Table 13 summarizes the Navy's take request for training and testing activities for an annual maximum year (a notional 12-month period when all annual and non-annual events could occur) and the summation over a 5-year period (annual events occurring five times and non-annual events occurring three times). Table 14 summarizes the Navy's take request for training and testing activities by species from the modeling estimates.

While the Navy does not anticipate any beaked whale strandings or mortalities from sonar and other active sources, in order to account for unforeseen circumstances that could lead to such effects the Navy requests the annual take, by mortality, of two beaked whales a year as part of training and testing activities.

Vessel strike to marine mammals is not associated with any specific training or testing activity but rather a limited, sporadic, and accidental result of Navy vessel movement within the Study Area. In order to account for the accidental nature of vessel strikes to large whales in general, and the potential risk from any vessel movement within the Study Area, the Navy is seeking take authorization in the event a Navy vessel strike does occur while conducting training or testing activities. However, since species identification has not been possible in most vessel strike cases, the Navy cannot quantifiably predict what species may be taken. Therefore, the Navy seeks take authorization by vessel strike for any combined number of large whale species to include fin whale, blue whale, humpback whale, Bryde's whale, Omura's whale, sei whale, minke whale, or sperm whale. The Navy requests takes of large marine mammals over the course of the 5-year regulations from training and testing activities as discussed below:

  • The take by vessel strike during training or testing activities in any given year of no more than one large whale of any species including fin whale, blue whale, humpback whale, Bryde's whale, Omura's whale, sei whale, minke whale, or sperm whale. The take by vessel strike of no more than five large whales from training and testing activities over the course of the five years of the MITT regulations.

There are no records of any Navy vessel strikes to marine mammals in the MITT Study Area. In areas outside the MITT Study Area (e.g., Hawaii and Southern California), there have been Navy strikes of larges whales. However, these areas differ significantly from the MITT Study Area given that both Hawaii and Southern California have a much higher number of Navy vessel activities and much higher densities of large whales. However, in order to account for the accidental nature of ship strikes in general, and potential risk from any vessel movement within the MITT Study Area, the Navy is seeking take authorization in the event a Navy ship strike does occur within the MITT Study Area during the 5-year authorization period.

Table 13—Summary of Annual and 5-Year Take Request for Training and Testing Activities

MMPA CategorySourceTraining and testing activities
Annual authorization sought 15-Year authorization sought 2
MortalityVessel strikeNo more than 1 large whale mortality in any given year 4No more than 5 large whale mortalities over five years.4
MortalityUnspecified 32 mortalities to beaked whales 310 mortalities to beaked whales over five years.3
Level AImpulse and Non-Impulse56—Species specific data shown in Table 15280—Species specific data shown in Table 15.
Level BImpulse and Non-Impulse81,906—Species specific data shown in Table 15409,530—Species specific data shown in Table 15.
1 These numbers constitute the total for an annual maximum year (a notional 12-month period when all annual and non-annual events could occur).
2 These numbers constitute the summation over a 5-year period with annual events occurring five times and non-annual events occurring three times.
3 The Navy's NAEMO model did not quantitatively predict these mortalities. Navy, however, is seeking this particular authorization given sensitivities these species may have to anthropogenic activities. Request includes 2 Ziphidae beaked whale annually to include any combination of Cuvier's beaked whale, Longman's beaked whale, and unspecified Mesoplodon sp. (not to exceed 10 beaked whales total over the 5-year length of requested authorization).
4 The Navy cannot quantifiably predict that proposed takes from training or testing will be of any particular species, and therefore seeks take authorization for any combination of large whale species (fin whale, blue whale, humpback whale, Bryde's whale, Omura's whale, sei whale, minke whale, or sperm whale).
Start Printed Page 15432

Table 14—Species-Specific Take Request From Modeling Estimates of Impulsive and Non-Impulsive Source Effects for All Training and Testing Activities

SpeciesAnnually 1Total over 5-year rule 2
Level BLevel AMortalityLevel BLevel AMortality
Blue whale280014000
Fin whale280014000
Humpback whale860004,30000
Sei whale319001,59500
Sperm whale506002,53000
Bryde's whale398001,99000
Minke whale1010050500
Omura's whale1030051500
Pygmy sperm whale5,57915027,895750
Dwarf sperm whale14,21741071,0852050
Killer whale840042000
False killer whale555002,77500
Pygmy killer whale1050052500
Short-finned pilot whale1,815009,07500
Melon-headed whale2,0850010,42500
Bottlenose dolphin741003,70500
Pantropical spotted dolphin12,8110064,05500
Striped dolphin3,2980016,49000
Spinner dolphin589002,94500
Rough toothed dolphin1,819009,09500
Fraser's dolphin2,5720012,86000
Risso's dolphin505002,52500
Cuvier's beaked whale22,54100112,70500
Blainville's beaked whale4,4260022,13000
Longman's beaked whale1,924009,62000
Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale3,8970019,48500
1 These numbers constitute the total for an annual maximum year (a notional 12-month period when all annual and non-annual events could occur).
2 These numbers constitute the summation over a 5-year period with annual events occurring five times and non-annual events occurring three times.

Analysis and Preliminary Determination

Negligible impact is “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” (50 CFR 216.103). A negligible impact finding is based on the lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population-level effects). An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be “taken” through behavioral harassment, NMFS must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes, the number of estimated mortalities, and effects on habitat.

The Navy's specified activities have been described based on best estimates of the maximum amount of sonar and other acoustic source use or detonations that the Navy would conduct. There may be some flexibility in that the exact number of hours, items, or detonations may vary from year to year, but take totals are not authorized to exceed the 5-year totals indicated in Table 13. Furthermore the Navy's take request is based on their model and post-model analysis. Generally speaking, and especially with other factors being equal, the Navy and NMFS anticipate more severe effects from takes resulting from exposure to higher received levels (though this is in no way a strictly linear relationship throughout species, individuals, or circumstances) and less severe effects from takes resulting from exposure to lower received levels. The requested number of Level B takes does not equate to the number of individual animals the Navy expects to harass (which is lower), but rather to the instances of take (i.e., exposures above the Level B harassment threshold) that would occur. Depending on the location, duration, and frequency of activities, along with the distribution and movement of marine mammals, individual animals may be exposed to impulse or non-impulse sounds at or above the Level B harassment threshold on multiple days. However, the Navy is currently unable to estimate the number of individuals that may be taken during training and testing activities. The model results estimate the total number of takes that may occur to a smaller number of individuals. While the model shows that an increased number of exposures may take place due to an increase in events/activities and ordnance (compared to the 2010 rulemaking for the MIRC), the types and severity of individual responses to training and testing activities are not expected to change.

Behavioral Harassment

As discussed previously in this document, marine mammals can respond to MFAS/HFAS in many different ways, a subset of which qualifies as harassment (see Behavioral Harassment Section). One thing that the Level B Harassment take estimates do not take into account is the fact that most marine mammals will likely avoid strong sound sources to one extent or another. Although an animal that avoids the sound source will likely still be taken in some instances (such as if the avoidance results in a missed opportunity to feed, interruption of reproductive behaviors, etc.) in other Start Printed Page 15433cases avoidance may result in fewer instances of take than were estimated or in the takes resulting from exposure to a lower received level than was estimated, which could result in a less severe response. For MFAS/HFAS, the Navy provided information (Table 15) estimating the percentage of behavioral harassment that would occur within the 6-dB bins (without considering mitigation or avoidance). As mentioned above, an animal's exposure to a higher received level is more likely to result in a behavioral response that is more likely to adversely affect the health of the animal. As illustrated below, the majority (about 72 percent, at least for hull-mounted sonar, which is responsible for most of the sonar takes) of calculated takes from MFAS result from exposures less than 156 dB. Less than 1 percent of the takes are expected to result from exposures above 174 dB.

Table 15—Non-Impulsive Ranges in 6-dB Bins and Percentage of Behavioral Harassments

Received levelSonar Bin MF1 (e.g., SQS-53; ASW hull mounted sonar)Sonar Bin MF4 (e.g., AQS-22; ASW dipping sonar)Sonar Bin MF5 (e.g., SSQ-62; ASW sonobuoy)Sonar Bin HF4 (e.g., SQQ-32; MIW Sonar)
Distance at which levels occur within radius of source (m)Percentage of behavioral harassments occurring at given levelsDistance at which levels occur within radius of source (m)Percentage of behavioral harassments occurring at given levelsDistance at which levels occur within radius of source (m)Percentage of behavioral harassments occurring at given levelsDistance at which levels occur within radius of source (m)Percentage of behavioral harassments occurring at given levels
Low Frequency Cetaceans
120 ≤ SPL < 126183,000-133,000<171,000-65,000<118,000-13,000<12,300-1,700<1
126 ≤ SPL < 132133,000 126,000<165,000-60,000<113,000-7,600<11,700-1,200<1
132 ≤ SPL < 138126,000-73,000<360,000-8,200427,600-2,800121,200-750<1
138 ≤ SPL < 14473,000-67,000<18,200-3,500102,800-90026750-5005
144 ≤ SPL < 15067,000-61,00033,500-1,80012900-50015500-30017
150 ≤ SPL < 15661,000-17,000681,800-95015500-25021300-15034
156 ≤ SPL < 16217,000-10,30012950-45013250-10020150-10020
162 ≤ SPL < 16810,200 5,6009450-2006100-<506100-<5024
168 ≤ SPL < 1745,600-1,6006200-1002<50<1<50<1
174 ≤ SPL < 1801,600-800<1100-<50<1<50<1<50<1
180 ≤ SPL < 186800-400<1<50<1<50<1<50<1
186 ≤ SPL < 192400-200<1<50<1<50<1<50<1
192 ≤ SPL < 198200-100<1<50<1<50<1<50<1
Mid-Frequency Cetaceans
120 ≤ SPL < 126184,000-133,000<172,000-66,000<119,000-15,000<13,600-2,800<1
126 ≤ SPL < 132133,000-126,000<166,000-60,000<115,000-8,500<12,800-2,100<1
132 ≤ SPL < 138126,000-73,000<160,000-8,300418,500-3,30032,100-1,500<1
138 ≤ SPL < 14473,000-67,000<18,300-3,600103,300-1,000121,500-1,0003
144 ≤ SPL < 15067,000-61,00033,600-1,900121,000-500101,00-70010
150 ≤ SPL < 15661,000-18,000681,900-95015500-30022700-45021
156 ≤ SPL < 16218,000-10,30013950-48012300-15027450-25032
162 ≤ SPL < 16810,300-5,7009480-2007150-<5025250-15019
168 ≤ SPL < 1745,700-1,7006200-1002<50<1150-1009
174 ≤ SPL < 1801,700-900<1100-<50<1<50<1100-<506
180 ≤ SPL < 186900-400<1<50<1<50<1<50<1
186 ≤ SPL < 192400-200<1<50<1<50<1<50<1
192 ≤ SPL < 198200-100<1<50<1<50<1<50<1
ASW: anti-submarine warfare; MIW: mine warfare; m: meter; SPL: sound pressure level.

Although the Navy has been monitoring to discern the effects of MFAS/HFAS on marine mammals since 2006, and research on the effects of MFAS is advancing, our understanding of exactly how marine mammals in the Study Area will respond to MFAS/HFAS is still limited. The Navy has submitted reports from more than 60 major exercises across Navy range complexes that indicate no behavioral disturbance was observed. One cannot conclude from these results that marine mammals were not harassed from MFAS/HFAS, as a portion of animals within the area of concern were not seen (especially those more cryptic, deep-diving species, such as beaked whales or Kogia spp.), the full series of behaviors that would more accurately show an important change is not typically seen (i.e., only the surface behaviors are observed), and some of the non-biologist watchstanders might not be well-qualified to characterize behaviors. However, one can say that the animals that were observed did not respond in any of the obviously more severe ways, such as panic, aggression, or anti-predator response.

Diel Cycle

As noted previously, many animals perform vital functions, such as feeding, resting, traveling, and socializing on a diel cycle (24-hour cycle). Behavioral reactions to noise exposure (when taking place in a biologically important context, 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). Consequently, a behavioral response lasting less than one day and not recurring on subsequent days is not considered severe unless it could directly affect reproduction or survival (Southall et al., 2007).

In the previous section, we discussed that potential behavioral responses to MFAS/HFAS that fall into the category of harassment could range in severity. By definition, for military readiness activities, takes by behavioral harassment involve the disturbance or likely disturbance of a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of natural behavioral patterns (such as migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering) to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly altered. These reactions would, however, be more of a concern if they were expected to last over 24 hrs or be repeated in subsequent days. However, vessels with hull-mounted active sonar Start Printed Page 15434are typically moving at speeds of 10-15 knots, which would make it unlikely that the same animal could remain in the immediate vicinity of the ship for the entire duration of the exercise. Animals may be exposed to MFAS/HFAS for more than one day or on successive days. However, because neither the vessels nor the animals are stationary, significant long-term effects are not expected.

Most planned explosive exercises are of a short duration (1-6 hours). Although explosive exercises may sometimes be conducted in the same general areas repeatedly, because of their short duration and the fact that they are in the open ocean and animals can easily move away, it is similarly unlikely that animals would be exposed for long, continuous amounts of time.

TTS

As mentioned previously, TTS can last from a few minutes to days, be of varying degree, and occur across various frequency bandwidths, all of which determine the severity of the impacts on the affected individual, which can range from minor to more severe. The TTS sustained by an animal is primarily classified by three characteristics:

1. Frequency—Available data (of mid-frequency hearing specialists exposed to mid- or high-frequency sounds; Southall et al., 2007) suggest that most TTS occurs in the frequency range of the source up to one octave higher than the source (with the maximum TTS at 1/2 octave above). The more powerful mid-frequency sources used have center frequencies between 3.5 and 8 kHz and the other unidentified mid-frequency sources are, by definition, less than 10 kHz, which suggests that TTS induced by any of these mid-frequency sources would be in a frequency band somewhere between approximately 2 and 20 kHz. There are fewer hours of high-frequency source use and the sounds would attenuate more quickly, plus they have lower source levels, but if an animal were to incur TTS from these sources, it would cover a higher frequency range (sources are between 20 and 100 kHz, which means that TTS could range up to 200 kHz; however, high-frequency systems are typically used less frequently and for shorter time periods than surface ship and aircraft mid-frequency systems, so TTS from these sources is even less likely). TTS from explosives would be broadband. Vocalization data for each species was provided in the Navy's LOA application.

2. Degree of the shift (i.e., how many dB is the sensitivity of the hearing reduced by)—Generally, both the degree of TTS and the duration of TTS will be greater if the marine mammal is exposed to a higher level of energy (which would occur when the peak dB level is higher or the duration is longer). The threshold for the onset of TTS was discussed previously in this document. An animal would have to approach closer to the source or remain in the vicinity of the sound source appreciably longer to increase the received SEL, which would be difficult considering the lookouts and the nominal speed of an active sonar vessel (10-15 knots). In the TTS studies, some using exposures of almost an hour in duration or up to 217 SEL, most of the TTS induced was 15 dB or less, though Finneran et al. (2007) induced 43 dB of TTS with a 64-second exposure to a 20 kHz source. However, MFAS emits a nominal ping every 50 seconds, and incurring those levels of TTS is highly unlikely.

3. Duration of TTS (recovery time)—In the TTS laboratory studies, some using exposures of almost an hour in duration or up to 217 SEL, almost all individuals recovered within 1 day (or less, often in minutes), though in one study (Finneran et al., 2007), recovery took 4 days.

Based on the range of degree and duration of TTS reportedly induced by exposures to non-pulse sounds of energy higher than that to which free-swimming marine mammals in the field are likely to be exposed during MFAS/HFAS training exercises in the Study Area, it is unlikely that marine mammals would ever sustain a TTS from MFAS that alters their sensitivity by more than 20 dB for more than a few days (and any incident of TTS would likely be far less severe due to the short duration of the majority of the exercises and the speed of a typical vessel). Also, for the same reasons discussed in the Diel Cycle section, and because of the short distance within which animals would need to approach the sound source, it is unlikely that animals would be exposed to the levels necessary to induce TTS in subsequent time periods such that their recovery is impeded. Additionally, though the frequency range of TTS that marine mammals might sustain would overlap with some of the frequency ranges of their vocalization types, the frequency range of TTS from MFAS (the source from which TTS would most likely be sustained because the higher source level and slower attenuation make it more likely that an animal would be exposed to a higher received level) would not usually span the entire frequency range of one vocalization type, much less span all types of vocalizations. If impaired, marine mammals would typically be aware of their impairment and implement behaviors to compensate (see Acoustic Masking or Communication Impairment section), though these compensations may incur energetic costs.

Acoustic Masking or Communication Impairment

Masking only occurs during the time of the signal (and potential secondary arrivals of indirect rays), versus TTS, which continues beyond the duration of the signal. Standard MFAS nominally pings every 50 seconds for hull-mounted sources. For the sources for which we know the pulse length, most are significantly shorter than hull-mounted active sonar, on the order of several microseconds to tens of microseconds. For hull-mounted active sonar, though some of the vocalizations that marine mammals make are less than one second long, there is only a one in 50 chance that they would occur exactly when the ping was received, and when vocalizations are longer than one second, only parts of them are masked. Alternately, when the pulses are only several microseconds long, the majority of most animals' vocalizations would not be masked. Masking effects from MFAS/HFAS are expected to be minimal. If masking or communication impairment were to occur briefly, it would be in the frequency range of MFAS, which overlaps with some marine mammal vocalizations; however, it would likely not mask the entirety of any particular vocalization or communication series because the signal length, frequency, and duty cycle of the MFAS/HFAS signal does not perfectly mimic the characteristics of any marine mammal's vocalizations.

PTS, Injury, or Mortality

NMFS believes that many marine mammals would deliberately avoid exposing themselves to the received levels of active sonar necessary to induce injury by moving away from or at least modifying their path to avoid a close approach. Additionally, in the unlikely event that an animal approaches the sonar vessel at a close distance, NMFS believes that the mitigation measures (i.e., shutdown/powerdown zones for MFAS/HFAS) would typically ensure that animals would not be exposed to injurious levels of sound. As discussed previously, the Navy utilizes both aerial (when available) and passive acoustic monitoring (during all ASW exercises) in addition to watchstanders on vessels to detect marine mammals for mitigation implementation.Start Printed Page 15435

If a marine mammal is able to approach a surface vessel within the distance necessary to incur PTS, the likely speed of the vessel (nominal 10-15 knots) would make it very difficult for the animal to remain in range long enough to accumulate enough energy to result in more than a mild case of PTS. As mentioned previously and in relation to TTS, the likely consequences to the health of an individual that incurs PTS can range from mild to more serious dependent upon the degree of PTS and the frequency band it is in, and many animals are able to compensate for the shift, although it may include energetic costs.

As discussed previously, marine mammals (especially beaked whales) could potentially respond to MFAS at a received level lower than the injury threshold in a manner that indirectly results in the animals stranding. The exact mechanism of this potential response, behavioral or physiological, is not known. When naval exercises have been associated with strandings in the past, it has typically been when three or more vessels are operating simultaneously, in the presence of a strong surface duct, and in areas of constricted channels, semi-enclosed areas, and/or steep bathymetry. Based on the number of occurrences where strandings have been definitively associated with military active sonar versus the number of hours of active sonar training that have been conducted, we believe that the probability is small that this will occur. Lastly, an active sonar shutdown protocol for strandings involving live animals milling in the water minimizes the chances that these types of events turn into mortalities.

Although there have been no recorded Navy vessel strikes of marine mammals in the MITT Study Area to date, NMFS is proposing to authorize takes by mortality of a limited number of large whales from vessel strike.

Species-Specific Analysis

In the discussions below, the “acoustic analysis” refers to the Navy's model results and post-model analysis. The Navy performed a quantitative analysis to estimate the number of marine mammals that could be harassed by acoustic sources or explosives used during Navy training and testing activities. Inputs to the quantitative analysis included marine mammal density estimates; marine mammal depth occurrence distributions; oceanographic and environmental data; marine mammal hearing data; and criteria and thresholds for levels of potential effects. Marine mammal densities used in the model may overestimate actual densities when species data is limited and for species with seasonal migrations. The quantitative analysis consists of computer modeled estimates and a post-model analysis to determine the number of potential mortalities and harassments. The model calculates sound energy propagation from sonars, other active acoustic sources, and explosives during naval activities; the sound or impulse received by animat dosimeters representing marine mammals distributed in the area around the modeled activity; and whether the sound or impulse received by a marine mammal exceeds the thresholds for effects. The model estimates are then further analyzed to consider animal avoidance and implementation of mitigation measures, resulting in final estimates of effects due to Navy training and testing. It is important to note that the Navy's take estimates represent the total number of takes and not the number of individuals taken, as a single individual may be taken multiple times over the course of a year.

Although this more complex computer modeling approach accounts for various environmental factors affecting acoustic propagation, the current software tools do not consider the likelihood that a marine mammal would attempt to avoid repeated exposures to a sound or avoid an area of intense activity where a training or testing event may be focused. Additionally, the software tools do not consider the implementation of mitigation (e.g., stopping sonar transmissions when a marine mammal is within a certain distance of a ship or range clearance prior to detonations). In both of these situations, naval activities are modeled as though an activity would occur regardless of proximity to marine mammals and without any horizontal movement by the animal away from the sound source or human activities (e.g., without accounting for likely animal avoidance). The initial model results overestimate the number of takes (as described previously), primarily by behavioral disturbance. The final step of the quantitative analysis of acoustic effects is to consider the implementation of mitigation on Level A harassment and mortality estimates and the possibility that marine mammals would avoid continued or repeated sound exposures. NMFS provided input to the Navy on this process and the Navy's qualitative analysis is described in detail in section 6.3 of their LOA application (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications).

Mysticetes—The Navy's acoustic analysis indicates that numerous exposures of mysticete species to sound levels likely to result in Level B harassment may occur, mostly from sonar and other active acoustic stressors associated with mostly training and some testing activities in the Study Area. Of these species, humpback, blue, fin, and sei whales are listed as endangered under the ESA. Level B takes are anticipated to be in the form of behavioral harassment and no injurious takes of humpback, blue, fin, or sei whales from sonar, or other active acoustic stressors are expected. The majority of acoustic effects to mysticetes from sonar and other active sound sources during training activitites would be primarily from anti-submarine warfare events involving surface ships and hull mounted (mid-frequency) sonar. Most Level B harassments to mysticetes from sonar would result from received levels less than 152 dB SPL. High-frequency systems are not within mysticetes' ideal hearing range and it is unlikely that they would cause a significant behavioral reaction. The implementation of mitigation and the sightability of mysticetes (due to their large size) further reduce the potential for a significant behavioral reaction or a threshold shift to occur. Furthermore, there are no known areas of significance for breeding, calving, or feeding within the MITT Study Area.

In addition to Level B takes, the Navy is requesting no more than five large whale mortalities over 5 years (no more than one large whale mortality in a given year) due to vessel strike during training and testing activities. Of the five takes over 5 years, no more than two takes of any one species of blue whale, fin whale, humpback whale, sei whale, or sperm whale is proposed. The Navy provided a detailed analysis of strike data in section 6.3.4 of their LOA application. To date, there have been no recorded Navy vessel strikes in the MITT Study Area. However, over a period of 20+ years (1991 to 2013), there have been 16 Navy vessel strikes in the SOCAL Range Complex and five Navy vessel strikes in HRC. The number of mortalities from vessel strike is not expected to be an increase over the past decade, but rather NMFS is proposing to authorize these takes for the first time.

Sperm Whales—The Navy's acoustic analysis indicates that 506 exposures of sperm whales to sound levels likely to result in Level B harassment may occur in the MITT Study Area each year from sonar or other active acoustic stressors during training and testing activities. Start Printed Page 15436These Level B takes are anticipated to be in the form of behavioral harassment and no injurious takes of sperm whales from sonar, other active acoustic stressors, or explosives are requested or proposed for authorization. Sperm whales have shown resilience to acoustic and human disturbance, although they may react to sound sources and activities within a few kilometers. Sperm whales that are exposed to activities that involve the use of sonar and other active acoustic sources may alert, ignore the stimulus, avoid the area by swimming away or diving, or display aggressive behavior. Some (but not all) sperm whale vocalizations might overlap with the MFAS/HFAS TTS frequency range, which could temporarily decrease an animal's sensitivity to the calls of conspecifics or returning echolocation signals. However, as noted previously, NMFS does not anticipate TTS of a long duration or severe degree to occur as a result of exposure to MFAS/HFAS. The majority of Level B takes are expected to be in the form of mild responses.

In addition to Level B takes, the Navy is requesting no more than five large whale mortalities over 5 years (no more than one large whale mortality in a given year) due to vessel strike during training and testing activities, which includes sperm whales. However, of the five takes over 5 years, no more than two takes of sperm whale is proposed. No areas of specific importance for reproduction or feeding for sperm whales have been identified in the MITT Study Area.

Pygmy and Dwarf Sperm Whales—The Navy's acoustic analysis indicates that 19,796 exposures of pygmy and dwarf sperm whales to sound levels likely to result in Level B harassment may occur from sonar and other active acoustic stressors and explosives associated with training and testing activities in the Study Area. The Navy's acoustic analysis also indicates that 41 exposures of dwarf sperm whale and 15 exposures of pygmy sperm whale to sound levels likely to result in Level A harassment may occur from active acoustic stressors and explosions. Behavioral responses can range from a mild orienting response, or a shifting of attention, to flight and panic. These species tend to avoid human activity and presumably anthropogenic sounds. Pygmy and dwarm sperm whales may startle and leave the immediate area of activity, reducing the potential impacts. Significant behavioral reactions seem more likely than with most other odontocetes; however, it is unlikely that animals would receive multiple exposures over a short period of time, allowing animals to recover lost resources (e.g., food) or opportunities (e.g., mating). Therefore, long-term consequences for individual Kogia or their respective populations are not expected. Furthermore, many explosions actually occur upon impact with above-water targets. However, sources such as these were modeled as exploding at 1 meter depth, which overestimates the potential effects.

Dolphins and Small Whales—The Navy's acoustic analysis indicates that 12 species of delphinid (dolphins and small whales) may be exposed to sound levels likely to result in Level B harassment: killer whale, false killer whale, pygmy killer whale, short-finned pilot whale, melon-headed whale, bottlenose dolphin, pantropical spotted dolphin, striped dolphin, spinner dolphin, rough toothed dolphin, Fraser's dolphin, and Risso's dolphin. All of these takes are anticipated to be in the form of behavioral harassment and no injurious takes of delphinids from active acoustic stressors or explosives are requested or proposed for authorization. Behavioral responses can range from a mild orienting response, or a shifting of attention, to flight and panic.

Beaked Whales—The Navy's acoustic analysis indicates that four species of beaked whale may be exposed to sound levels likely to result in Level B harassment. These takes are anticipated to be in the form of behavioral harassment and no injurious takes of dolphins from active acoustic stressors or explosives are requested or proposed for authorization. Behavioral responses can range from a mild orienting response, or a shifting of attention, to flight and panic. In addition, the Navy is requesting take by mortality of an average of two beaked whales per year. The Navy's model did not quantitatively predict these mortalities; however, beaked whales may be more sensitive to anthropogenic activities. After decades of the Navy conducting similar activities in the MITT Study Area without observed incident, NMFS does not expect injury or mortality of beaked whales to occur as a result of Navy activities. No areas of specific importance for reproduction or feeding for beaked whales have been identified in the MITT Study Area.

Some beaked whale vocalizations might overlap with the MFAS/HFAS frequency range, which could potentially decrease an animal's sensitivity to the calls of conspecifics or returning echolocation signals for a limited amount of time. However, NMFS does not anticipate TTS of a long duration or severe degree to occur as a result of exposure to sonar and other active acoustic sources. The Navy does not predict any beaked whales to be exposed to sound levels associated with PTS or injury.

As discussed previously, scientific uncertainty exists regarding the potential contributing causes of beaked whale strandings and the exact behavioral or physiological mechanisms that can potentially lead to the ultimate physical effects (stranding and/or death) that have been documented in a few cases. Although NMFS does not expect injury or mortality of any beaked whale species to occur as a result of the Navy's activities involving active acoustic sources, there remains the potential for the these sources to contribute to the mortality of beaked whales. Consequently, NMFS proposes to authorize mortality and we consider the 10 potential mortalities (over a 5-year period) in our negligible impact determination (NMFS only intends to authorize a total of 10 beaked whale mortalities, but since they could be of any single species, we consider the effects of 10 mortalities of any of the four species).

Preliminary Determination

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 proposed mitigation and monitoring measures, NMFS preliminarily finds that the total marine mammal take form the Navy's training and testing activities in the MITT Study Area will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species for Taking for Subsistence Uses

There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action. Therefore, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the total taking of affected species or stocks would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for subsistence purposes.

Endangered Species Act (ESA)

There are five marine mammal species under NMFS jurisdiction that are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA with confirmed or possible occurrence in the Study Area: blue whale, humpback whale, fin whale, sei whale, and sperm whale. The Navy will consult with NMFS pursuant to section 7 of the ESA, and NMFS will also consult internally on the issuance of the MMPA incidental take regulations Start Printed Page 15437and for MITT activities. Consultation will be concluded prior to a determination on the issuance of the final rule and LOA.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

NMFS has participated as a cooperating agency on the MITT DEIS/OEIS, which was published on September 13, 2013 (78 FR 56682). The MITT DEIS/OEIS is available online at: http://www.mitt-eis.com. NMFS intends to adopt the Navy's final MITT EIS/OEIS (FEIS/OEIS), if adequate and appropriate. Currently, we believe that the adoption of the Navy's MITT FEIS/OEIS will allow NMFS to meet its responsibilities under NEPA for the issuance of regulations and LOAs for MITT. If the Navy's MITT FEIS/OEIS is deemed inadequate, NMFS would supplement the existing analysis to ensure that we comply with NEPA prior to the issuance of the final rule or LOA.

Classification

The Office of Management and Budget has determined that this proposed rule is not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866.

Pursuant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), the Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce has certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration that this proposed rule, if adopted, would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The RFA requires federal agencies to prepare an analysis of a rule's impact on small entities whenever the agency is required to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking. However, a federal agency may certify, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 605(b), that the action will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The Navy is the sole entity that would be affected by this rulemaking, and the Navy is not a small governmental jurisdiction, small organization, or small business, as defined by the RFA. Any requirements imposed by an LOA issued pursuant to these regulations, and any monitoring or reporting requirements imposed by these regulations, would be applicable only to the Navy. NMFS does not expect the issuance of these regulations or the associated LOAs to result in any impacts to small entities pursuant to the RFA. Because this action, if adopted, would directly affect the Navy and not a small entity, NMFS concludes the action would not result in a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.

Start List of Subjects

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 218

  • Exports
  • Fish
  • Imports
  • Incidental take
  • Indians
  • Labeling
  • Marine mammals
  • Navy
  • Penalties
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
  • Seafood
  • Sonar
  • Transportation
End List of Subjects Start Signature

Dated: March 5, 2014.

Samuel D. Rauch III,

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service.

End Signature

For reasons set forth in the preamble, 50 CFR part 218 is proposed to be amended as follows:

Start Part

PART 218—REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE TAKING AND IMPORTING OF MARINE MAMMALS

End Part Start Amendment Part

1. The authority citation for part 218 continues to read as follows:

End Amendment Part Start Authority

Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.

End Authority Start Amendment Part

2. Subpart J is added to part 218 to read as follows:

End Amendment Part
Subpart J—Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy's Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT)
218.90
Specified activity and specified geographical region.
218.91
Effective dates and definitions.
218.92
Permissible methods of taking.
218.93
Prohibitions.
218.94
Mitigation.
218.95
Requirements for monitoring and reporting.
218.96
Applications for Letters of Authorization
218.97
Letters of Authorization.
218.98
Renewal and Modifications of Letters of Authorization and Adaptive Management.

Subpart J—Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy's Mariana Islands Training and Testing (MITT)

Specified activity and specified geographical region.

(a) Regulations in this subpart apply only to the U.S. Navy for the taking of marine mammals that occurs in the area outlined in paragraph (b) of this section and that occurs incidental to the activities described in paragraph (c) of this section.

(b) The taking of marine mammals by the Navy is only authorized if it occurs within the MITT Study Area, which includes the MIRC and areas to the north and west. The Study Area includes established ranges, operating areas, warning areas, and special use airspace in the region of the Mariana Islands that are part of the MIRC, its surrounding seas, and a transit corridor to the Hawaii Range Complex. The Study Area also includes Navy pierside locations where sonar maintenance and testing may occur.

(c) The taking of marine mammals by the Navy is only authorized if it occurs incidental to the following activities within the designated amounts of use:

(1) Non-impulsive Sources Used During Training and Testing:

(i) Low-frequency (LF) Source Classes:

(A) LF4—an average of 123 hours per year.

(B) LF5—an average of 11 hours per year.

(C) LF6—an average of 40 hours per year.

(ii) Mid-frequency (MF) Source Classes:

(A) MF1—an average of 1,872 hours per year.

(B) MF2—an average of 625 hours per year.

(C) MF3—an average of 192 hours per year.

(D) MF4—an average of 214 hours per year.

(E) MF5—an average of 2,588 items per year.

(F) MF6—an average of 33 items per year.

(G) MF8—an average of 123 hours per year.

(H) MF9—an average of 47 hours per year.

(I) MF10—an average of 231 hours per year.

(J) MF11—an average of 324 hours per year.

(K) MF12—an average of 656 hours per year.

(iii) High-frequency (HF) and Very High-frequency (VHF) Source Classes:

(A) HF1—an average of 113 hours per year.

(B) HF4—an average of 1,060 hours per year.

(C) HF5—an average of 336 hours per year.

(D) HF6—an average of 1,173 hours per year.

(iv) Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Source Classes:

(A) ASW1—an average of 144 hours per year.

(B) ASW2—an average of 660 items per year.

(C) ASW3—an average of 3,935 hours per year.

(D) ASW4—an average of 32 items per year.

(v) Torpedoes (TORP) Source Classes:

(A) TORP1—an average of 115 items per year.

(B) TORP2—an average of 62 items per year.

(vi) Acoustic Modems (M):

(A) M3—an average of 112 hours per year.

(B) [Reserved]

(vii) Swimmer Detection Sonar (SD):Start Printed Page 15438

(A) SD1—an average 2,341 hours per year.

(1) Impulsive Source Detonations During Training and Testing:

(i) Explosive Classes:

(A) E1 (0.1 to 0.25 lb NEW)—an average of 10,140 detonations per year.

(B) E2 (0.26 to 0.5 lb NEW)—an average of 106 detonations per year.

(C) E3 (>0.5 to 2.5 lb NEW)—an average of 932 detonations per year.

(D) E4 (>2.5 to 5 lb NEW)—an average of 420 detonations per year.

(E) E5 (>5 to 10 lb NEW)—an average of 684 detonations per year.

(F) E6 (>10 to 20 lb NEW)—an average of 76 detonations per year.

(G) E8 (>60 to 100 lb NEW)—an average of 16 detonations per year.

(H) E9 (>100 to 250 lb NEW)—an average of 4 detonations per year.

(I) E10 (>250 to 500 lb NEW)—an average of 12 detonations per year.

(J) E11 (>500 to 650 lb NEW)—an average of 6 detonations per year.

(K) E12 (>650 to 2,000 lb NEW)—an average of 184 detonations per year.

(ii) [Reserved]

Effective dates and definitions.

(a) Regulations are effective March 18, 2014 through March 18, 2019.

(b) The following definitions are utilized in these regulations:

(1) Uncommon Stranding Event (USE)—A stranding event that takes place within an OPAREA where a Major Training Event (MTE) occurs and involves any one of the following:

(i) Two or more individuals of any cetacean species (not including mother/calf pairs), unless of species of concern listed in paragraph (b)(1)(ii) of this section found dead or live on shore within a 2-day period and occurring within 30 miles of one another.

(ii) A single individual or mother/calf pair of any of the following marine mammals of concern: beaked whale of any species, Kogia spp., Risso's dolphin, melon-headed whale, pilot whale, humpback whale, sperm whale, blue whale, fin whale, sei whale, or monk seal.

(iii) A group of two or more cetaceans of any species exhibiting indicators of distress.

(2) Shutdown—The cessation of active sonar operation or detonation of explosives within 14 nautical miles of any live, in the water, animal involved in a USE.

Permissible methods of taking.

(a) Under a Letter of Authorization (LOA) issued pursuant to § 218.97, the Holder of the Letter of Authorization may incidentally, but not intentionally, take marine mammals within the area described in § 218.90, provided the activity is in compliance with all terms, conditions, and requirements of these regulations and the appropriate LOA.

(b) The activities identified in § 218.90(c) must be conducted in a manner that minimizes, to the greatest extent practicable, any adverse impacts on marine mammals and their habitat.

(c) The incidental take of marine mammals under the activities identified in § 218.90(c) is limited to the following species, by the identified method of take:

(1) Level A and B Harassment for all Training and Testing Activities:

(i) Mysticetes:

(A) Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

(B) Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni)

(C) Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

(D) Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

(E) Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

(F) Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)

(G) Omura's whale (Balaenoptera omurai)

(ii) Odontocetes:

(A) Blainville's beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)

(B) Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

(C) Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

(D) Dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima)

(E) False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

(F) Fraser's dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei)

(G) Gingko-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens)

(H) Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

(I) Longman's beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus)

(J) Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra)

(K) Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)

(L) Pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata)

(M) Pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps)

(N) Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus)

(O) Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis)

(P) Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

(Q) Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

(R) Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)

(S) Striped dolphin (Stenella coerulealba)

(2) Mortality for all Training and Testing Activities:

(i) No more than 10 beaked whale mortalities.

(ii) No more than 5 large whale mortalities (no more than 1 in any given year) from vessel strike.

Prohibitions.

Notwithstanding takings contemplated in § 218.92 and authorized by an LOA issued under §§ 216.106 and 218.97 of this chapter, no person in connection with the activities described in § 218.90 may:

(a) Take any marine mammal not specified in § 218.92(c);

(b) Take any marine mammal specified in § 218. 92(c) other than by incidental take as specified in § 218.92(c);

(c) Take a marine mammal specified in § 218.92(c) if such taking results in more than a negligible impact on the species or stocks of such marine mammal; or

(d) Violate, or fail to comply with, the terms, conditions, and requirements of these regulations or an LOA issued under §§ 216.106 and 218.97.

Mitigation.

(a) When conducting training and testing activities, as identified in § 218.90, the mitigation measures contained in the LOA issued under §§ 216.106 and 218.97 of this chapter must be implemented. These mitigation measures include, but are not limited to:

(1) Lookouts—The following are protective measures concerning the use of lookouts.

(i) Lookouts positioned on surface ships will be dedicated solely to diligent observation of the air and surface of the water. Their observation objectives will include, but are not limited to, detecting the presence of biological resources and recreational or fishing boats, observing buffer zones, and monitoring for vessel and personnel safety concerns.

(ii) Lookouts positioned in aircraft or on boats will, to the maximum extent practicable and consistent with aircraft and boat safety and training and testing requirements, comply with the observation objectives described above in § 218.94 (a)(1)(i).

(iii) Lookout measures for non-impulsive sound:

(A) With the exception of vessels less than 65 ft (20 m) in length and the Littoral Combat Ship (and similar vessels which are minimally manned), ships using low-frequency or hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar sources associated with anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare activities at sea will have two lookouts at the forward position of the vessel. For the purposes of this rule, low-frequency active sonar does not include surface towed array surveillance system low-frequency active sonar.Start Printed Page 15439

(B) While using low-frequency or hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar sources associated with anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare activities at sea, vessels less than 65 ft (20 m) in length and the Littoral Combat Ship (and similar vessels which are minimally manned) will have one lookout at the forward position of the vessel due to space and manning restrictions.

(C) Ships conducting active sonar activities while moored or at anchor (including pierside testing or maintenance) will maintain one lookout.

(D) Ships or aircraft conducting non-hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar, such as helicopter dipping sonar systems, will maintain one lookout.

(E) Surface ships or aircraft conducting high-frequency or non-hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar activities associated with anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare activities at sea will have one lookout.

(iv) Lookout measures for explosives and impulsive sound:

(A) Aircraft conducting IEER sonobuoy activities and explosive sonobuoy exercises will have one lookout.

(B) Surface vessels conducting anti-swimmer grenade activities will have one lookout.

(C) During general mine countermeasure and neutralization activities using up to a 20-lb net explosive weight detonation (bin E6 and below), vessels greater than 200 ft (61 m) will have two lookouts, while vessels less than 200 ft (61 m) will have one lookout.

(D) Mine neutralization activities involving positive diver-placed charges using up to a 20-lb net explosive weight detonation will have two lookouts.

(E) When mine neutralization activities using diver-placed charges with up to a 20-lb net explosive weight detonation are conducted with a time-delay firing device, four lookouts will be used. Two lookouts will be positioned in each of two small rigid hull inflatable boats. When aircraft are used, the pilot or member of the aircrew will serve as an additional lookout. The divers placing the charges on mines will report all marine mammal sightings to their dive support vessel.

(F) Surface vessels or aircraft conducting gunnery exercises will have one lookout.

(G) Surface vessels or aircraft conducting missile exercises against surface targets will have one lookout.

(H) Aircraft conducting bombing exercises will have one lookout.

(I) During explosive torpedo testing, one lookout will be used and positioned in an aircraft.

(J) During sinking exercises, two lookouts will be used. One lookout will be positioned in an aircraft and one on a surface vessel.

(K) Surface vessels conducting explosive and non-explosive large-caliber gunnery exercises will have one lookout.

(v) Lookout measures for physical strike and disturbance:

(A) While underway, surface ships will have at least one lookout.

(B) During activities using towed in-water devices, one lookout will be used.

(C) Activities involving non-explosive practice munitions (e.g., small-, medium-, and large-caliber gunnery exercises) using a surface target will have one lookout.

(D) During activities involving non-explosive bombing exercises, one lookout will be used.

(2) Mitigation Zones—The following are protective measures concerning the implementation of mitigation zones.

(i) Mitigation zones will be measured as the radius from a source and represent a distance to be monitored.

(ii) Visual detections of marine mammals within a mitigation zone will be communicated immediately to a watch station for information dissemination and appropriate action.

(iii) Mitigation zones for non-impulsive sound: [1]

(A) When marine mammals are detected by any means, the Navy shall ensure that low-frequency and hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar transmission levels are limited to at least 6 dB below normal operating levels if any detected marine mammals are within 1,000 yd (914 m) of the sonar dome (the bow).

(B) The Navy shall ensure that low-frequency and hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar transmissions are limited to at least 10 dB below the equipment's normal operating level if any detected marine mammals are within 500 yd (457 m) of the sonar dome.

(C) The Navy shall ensure that low-frequency and hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar transmissions are ceased if any detected marine mammals are within 200 yd (183 m) of the sonar dome. Transmissions will not resume until the marine mammal has been seen to leave the area, has not been detected for 30 minutes, or the vessel has transited more than 2,000 yd beyond the location of the last detection.

(D) When marine mammals are detected by any means, the Navy shall ensure that high-frequency and non-hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar transmission levels are ceased if any detected marine mammals are within 200 yd (183 m) of the source. Transmissions will not resume until the marine mammal has been seen to leave the area, has not been detected for 30 minutes, or the vessel has transited more than 2,000 yd beyond the location of the last detection.

(E) Special conditions applicable for dolphins and porpoises only: If, after conducting an initial maneuver to avoid close quarters with dolphins or porpoises, the Officer of the Deck concludes that dolphins or porpoises are deliberately closing to ride the vessel's bow wave, no further mitigation actions are necessary while the dolphins or porpoises continue to exhibit bow wave riding behavior.

(F) Prior to start up or restart of active sonar, operators shall check that the mitigation zone radius around the sound source is clear of marine mammals.

(G) Generally, the Navy shall operate sonar at the lowest practicable level, not to exceed 235 dB, except as required to meet tactical training objectives.

(iv) Mitigation zones for explosive and impulsive sound:

(A) A mitigation zone with a radius of 600 yd (549 m) shall be established for IEER sonobuoys (bin E4).

(B) A mitigation zone with a radius of 350 yd (320 m) shall be established for explosive sonobuoys using 0.6 to 2.5 lb net explosive weight (bin E3).

(C) A mitigation zone with a radius of 200 yd (183 m) shall be established for anti-swimmer grenades (bin E2).

(D) A mitigation zone ranging from 350 yd (320 m) to 500 yd (457 m), dependent on charge size, shall be established for mine countermeasure and neutralization activities using positive control firing devices. Mitigation zone distances are specified for charge size in Table 9 of the preamble.

(E) A mitigation zone with a radius of 1,000 yd (915 m) shall be established for mine neutralization diver placed mines using time-delay firing devices (bin E6).

(F) A mitigation zone with a radius of 200 yd (183 m) shall be established for small- and medium-caliber gunnery exercises with a surface target (bin E2).

(G) A mitigation zone with a radius of 600 yd (549 m) shall be established for large-caliber gunnery exercises with a surface target (bin E5).

(H) A mitigation zone with a radius of 900 yd (823 m) shall be established for missile exercises with up to 250 lb net Start Printed Page 15440explosive weight and a surface target (bin E9).

(I) A mitigation zone with a radius of 2,000 yd (1.8 km) shall be established for missile exercises with 251 to 500 lb net explosive weight and a surface target (E10).

(J) A mitigation zone with a radius of 2,500 yd (2.3 km) shall be established for bombing exercises (bin E12).

(K) A mitigation zone with a radius of 2,100 yd (1.9 km) shall be established for torpedo (explosive) testing (bin E11).

(L) A mitigation zone with a radius of 2.5 nautical miles shall be established for sinking exercises (bin E12).

(v) Mitigation zones for vessels and in-water devices:

(A) A mitigation zone of 500 yd (457 m) for observed whales and 200 yd (183 m) for all other marine mammals (except bow riding dolphins) shall be established for all vessel movement, providing it is safe to do so.

(B) A mitigation zone of 250 yd (229 m) shall be established for all towed in-water devices, providing it is safe to do so.

(vi) Mitigation zones for non-explosive practice munitions:

(A) A mitigation zone of 200 yd (183 m) shall be established for small, medium, and large caliber gunnery exercises using a surface target.

(B) A mitigation zone of 1,000 yd (914 m) shall be established for bombing exercises.

(3) Stranding Response Plan:

(i) The Navy shall abide by the letter of the “Stranding Response Plan for Major Navy Training Exercises in the MITT Study Area,” to include the following measures:

(A) Shutdown Procedures—When an Uncommon Stranding Event (USE—defined in § 218.71) occurs during a Major Training Exercise (MTE) in the MITT Study Area, the Navy shall implement the procedures described below.

(1) The Navy shall implement a shutdown (as defined § 218.71) when advised by a NMFS Office of Protected Resources Headquarters Senior Official designated in the MITT Study Area Stranding Communication Protocol that a USE involving live animals has been identified and that at least one live animal is located in the water. NMFS and the Navy will maintain a dialogue, as needed, regarding the identification of the USE and the potential need to implement shutdown procedures.

(2) Any shutdown in a given area shall remain in effect in that area until NMFS advises the Navy that the subject(s) of the USE at that area die or are euthanized, or that all live animals involved in the USE at that area have left the area (either of their own volition or herded).

(3) If the Navy finds an injured or dead animal floating at sea during an MTE, the Navy shall notify NMFS immediately or as soon as operational security considerations allow. The Navy shall provide NMFS with species or description of the animal(s), the condition of the animal(s), including carcass condition if the animal(s) is/are dead, location, time of first discovery, observed behavior (if alive), and photo or video (if available). Based on the information provided, NFMS will determine if, and advise the Navy whether a modified shutdown is appropriate on a case-by-case basis.

(4) In the event, following a USE, that qualified individuals are attempting to herd animals back out to the open ocean and animals are not willing to leave, or animals are seen repeatedly heading for the open ocean but turning back to shore, NMFS and the Navy shall coordinate (including an investigation of other potential anthropogenic stressors in the area) to determine if the proximity of mid-frequency active sonar training activities or explosive detonations, though farther than 14 nautical miles from the distressed animal(s), is likely contributing to the animals' refusal to return to the open water. If so, NMFS and the Navy will further coordinate to determine what measures are necessary to improve the probability that the animals will return to open water and implement those measures as appropriate.

(5) Within 72 hours of NMFS notifying the Navy of the presence of a USE, the Navy shall provide available information to NMFS (per the MITT Study Area Communication Protocol) regarding the location, number and types of acoustic/explosive sources, direction and speed of units using mid-frequency active sonar, and marine mammal sightings information associated with training activities occurring within 80 nautical miles (148 km) and 72 hours prior to the USE event. Information not initially available regarding the 80-nautical miles (148-km), 72-hour period prior to the event will be provided as soon as it becomes available. The Navy will provide NMFS investigative teams with additional relevant unclassified information as requested, if available.

(b) [Reserved]

Requirements for monitoring and reporting.

(a) As outlined in the MITT Study Area Stranding Communication Plan, the Holder of the Authorization must notify NMFS immediately (or as soon as operational security considerations allow) if the specified activity identified in § 218.90 is thought to have resulted in the mortality or injury of any marine mammals, or in any take of marine mammals not identified in § 218.91.

(b) The Holder of the LOA must conduct all monitoring and required reporting under the LOA, including abiding by the MITT Monitoring Plan.

(c) General Notification of Injured or Dead Marine Mammals—Navy personnel shall ensure that NMFS (regional stranding coordinator) is notified immediately (or as soon as operational security considerations allow) if an injured or dead marine mammal is found during or shortly after, and in the vicinity of, an Navy training or testing activity utilizing mid- or high-frequency active sonar, or underwater explosive detonations. The Navy shall provide NMFS with species or description of the animal(s), the condition of the animal(s) (including carcass condition if the animal is dead), location, time of first discovery, observed behaviors (if alive), and photo or video (if available). The Navy shall consult the Stranding Response Plan to obtain more specific reporting requirements for specific circumstances.

(d) Annual MITT Monitoring Plan Report—(1) The Navy shall submit an annual report describing the implementation and results of the MITT Monitoring Plan, described in § 218.95. Data standards will be consistent to the extent appropriate across range complexes and study areas to allow for comparison in different geographic locations. Although additional information will be gathered, the protected species observers collecting marine mammal data pursuant to the MITT Monitoring Plan shall, at a minimum, provide the same marine mammal observation data required in § 218.95. (2) As an alternative, the Navy may submit a multi-range complex annual monitoring plan report to fulfill this requirement. Such a report would describe progress of knowledge made with respect to monitoring plan study questions across all Navy ranges associated with the ICMP. Similar study questions shall be treated together so that progress on each topic shall be summarized across all Navy ranges. The report need not include analyses and content that does not provide direct assessment of cumulative progress on the monitoring plan study questions. The report shall be submitted either 90 days after the calendar year, or 90 days after the conclusion of the monitoring year date to be determined by the Adaptive Management process.Start Printed Page 15441

(e) Annual MITT Exercise and Testing Reports—The Navy shall submit preliminary reports detailing the status of authorized sound sources within 21 days after the end of the annual authorization cycle. The Navy shall submit detailed reports 3 months after the anniversary of the date of issuance of the LOA. The detailed annual reports shall contain information on Major Training Exercises (MTE), Sinking Exercise (SINKEX) events, and a summary of sound sources used, as described below. The analysis in the detailed reports will be based on the accumulation of data from the current year's report and data collected from previous reports. The detailed reports shall contain information identified in § 218.95(e)(1-5).

(1) Major Training Exercises/SINKEX:

(i) This section shall contain the reporting requirements for Coordinated and Strike Group exercises and SINKEX. Coordinated and Strike Group Major Training Exercises include:

(A) Sustainment Exercise (SUSTAINEX).

(B) Integrated ASW Course (IAC).

(C) Composite Training Unit Exercises (COMPTUEX).

(D) Joint Task Force Exercises (JTFEX).

(E) Undersea Warfare Exercise (USWEX).

(ii) Exercise information for each MTE:

(A) Exercise designator.

(B) Date that exercise began and ended.

(C) Location (operating area).

(D) Number of items or hours (per the LOA) of each sound source bin (impulsive and non-impulsive) used in the exercise.

(E) Number and types of vessels, aircraft, etc., participating in exercise.

(F) Individual marine mammal sighting info for each sighting for each MTE:

(1) Date/time/location of sighting.

(2) Species (if not possible, indication of whale/dolphin).

(3) Number of individuals.

(4) Initial detection sensor.

(5) Indication of specific type of platform the observation was made from (including, for example, what type of surface vessel or testing platform).

(6) Length of time observers maintained visual contact with marine mammal(s).

(7) Sea state.

(8) Visibility.

(9) Sound source in use at the time of sighting.

(10) Indication of whether animal is <200 yd, 200 to 500 yd, 500 to 1,000 yd, 1,000 to 2,000 yd, or >2,000 yd from sound source.

(11) Mitigation Implementation—Whether operation of sonar sensor was delayed, or sonar was powered or shut down, and how long the delay was; or whether navigation was changed or delayed.

(12) If source in use is a hull-mounted sonar, relative bearing of animal from ship, and estimation of animal's motion relative to ship (opening, closing, parallel).

(13) Observed behavior—Watchstanders shall report, in plain language and without trying to categorize in any way, the observed behavior of the animal(s) (such as animal closing to bow ride, paralleling course/speed, floating on surface and not swimming, etc.) and if any calves present.

(iii) An evaluation (based on data gathered during all of the MTEs) of the effectiveness of mitigation measures designed to minimize the received level to which marine mammals may be exposed. This evaluation shall identify the specific observations that support any conclusions the Navy reaches about the effectiveness of the mitigation.

(iv) Exercise information for each SINKEX:

(A) List of the vessels and aircraft involved in the SINKEX.

(B) Location (operating area).

(C) Chronological list of events with times, including time of sunrise and sunset, start and stop time of all marine species surveys that occur before, during, and after the SINKEX, and ordnance used.

(D) Visibility and/or weather conditions, wind speed, cloud cover, etc. throughout exercise if it changes.

(E) Aircraft used in the surveys, flight altitude, and flight speed and the area covered by each of the surveys, given in coordinates, map, or square miles.

(F) Passive acoustic monitoring details (number of sonobuoys, area and depth that was heard, detections of biologic activity, etc.).

(G) Individual marine mammal sighting info for each sighting that required mitigation to be implemented:

(1) Date/time/location of sighting.

(2) Species (if not possible, indication of whale/dolphin).

(3) Number of individuals.

(4) Initial detection sensor.

(5) Indication of specific type of platform the observation was made from (including, for example, what type of surface vessel or platform).

(6) Length of time observers maintained visual contact with marine mammal(s).

(7) Sea state.

(8) Visibility.

(9) Indication of whether animal is <200 yd, 200-500 yd, 500-1,000 yd, 1,000-2,000 yd, or >2,000 yd from the target.

(10) Mitigation implementation—Whether the SINKEX was stopped or delayed and length of delay.

(11) Observed behavior—Watchstanders shall report, in plain language and without trying to categorize in any way, the observed behavior of the animals (such as animal closing to bow ride, paralleling course/speed, floating on surface and not swimming, etc.), and if any calves present.

(H) List of the ordnance used throughout the SINEKX and net explosive weight (NEW) of each weapon and the combined NEW.

(2) Summary of Sources Used.

(i) This section shall include the following information summarized from the authorized sound sources used in all training and testing events:

(A) Total annual or quantity (per the LOA) of each bin of sonar or other non-impulsive source;

(B) Total annual expended/detonated rounds (missiles, bombs, etc.) for each explosive bin; and

(C) Improved Extended Echo-Ranging System (IEER)/sonobuoy summary, including:

(1) Total expended/detonated rounds (buoys).

(2) Total number of self-scuttled IEER rounds.

(3) Sonar Exercise Notification—The Navy shall submit to NMFS (specific contact information to be provided in the LOA) either an electronic (preferably) or verbal report within 15 calendar days after the completion of any major exercise indicating:

(i) Location of the exercise.

(ii) Beginning and end dates of the exercise.

(iii) Type of exercise.

(4) Geographic Information Presentation—The reports shall present an annual (and seasonal, where practical) depiction of training exercises and testing bin usage geographically across the Study Area.

(5) 5-year Close-out Exercise and Testing Report—This report will be included as part of the 2020 annual exercise or testing report. This report will provide the annual totals for each sound source bin with a comparison to the annual allowance and the 5-year total for each sound source bin with a comparison to the 5-year allowance. Additionally, if there were any changes to the sound source allowance, this report will include a discussion of why the change was made and include the analysis to support how the change did or did not result in a change in the FEIS and final rule determinations. The Start Printed Page 15442report will be submitted 3 months after the expiration of the rule. NMFS will submit comments on the draft close-out report, if any, within 3 months of receipt. The report will be considered final after the Navy has addressed NMFS' comments, or 3 months after the submittal of the draft if NMFS does not provide comments.

Applications for Letters of Authorization.

To incidentally take marine mammals pursuant to the regulations in this subpart, the U.S. citizen (as defined by § 216.106 of this chapter) conducting the activity identified in § 218.90(c) (the U.S. Navy) must apply for and obtain either an initial LOA in accordance with § 218.97 or a renewal under § 218.98.

Letters of Authorization.

(a) An LOA, unless suspended or revoked, will be valid for a period of time not to exceed the period of validity of this subpart.

(b) Each LOA will set forth:

(1) Permissible methods of incidental taking;

(2) Means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species, its habitat, and on the availability of the species for subsistence uses (i.e., mitigation); and

(3) Requirements for mitigation, monitoring and reporting.

(c) Issuance and renewal of the LOA will be based on a determination that the total number of marine mammals taken by the activity as a whole will have no more than a negligible impact on the affected species or stock of marine mammal(s).

Renewals and Modifications of Letters of Authorization.

(a) A Letter of Authorization issued under §§ 216.106 and 218.97 of this chapter for the activity identified in § 218.90(c) will be renewed or modified upon request of the applicant, provided that:

(1) The proposed specified activity and mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures, as well as the anticipated impacts, are the same as those described and analyzed for these regulations (excluding changes made pursuant to the adaptive management provision of this chapter), and;

(2) NMFS determines that the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures required by the previous LOA under these regulations were implemented.

(b) For LOA modification or renewal requests by the applicant that include changes to the activity or the mitigation, monitoring, or reporting (excluding changes made pursuant to the adaptive management provision of this chapter) that do not change the findings made for the regulations or result in no more than a minor change in the total estimated number of takes (or distribution by species or years), NMFS may publish a notice of proposed LOA in the Federal Register, including the associated analysis illustrating the change, and solicit public comment before issuing the LOA.

(c) An LOA issued under § 216.106 and § 218.97 of this chapter for the activity identified in § 218.94 of this chapter may be modified by NMFS under the following circumstances:

(1) Adaptive Management—NMFS may modify (including augment) the existing mitigation, monitoring, or reporting measures (after consulting with the Navy regarding the practicability of the modifications) if doing so creates a reasonable likelihood of more effectively accomplishing the goals of the mitigation and monitoring set forth in the preamble for these regulations.

(i) Possible sources of data that could contribute to the decision to modify the mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures in an LOA:

(A) Results from Navy's monitoring from the previous year(s);

(B) Results from other marine mammal and/or sound research or studies; or

(C) Any information that reveals marine mammals may have been taken in a manner, extent, or number not authorized by these regulations or subsequent LOAs.

(ii) If, through adaptive management, the modifications to the mitigation, monitoring, or reporting measures are substantial, NMFS would publish a notice of proposed LOA in the Federal Register and solicit public comment.

(2) Emergencies—If NMFS determines that an emergency exists that poses a significant risk to the well-being of the species or stocks of marine mammals specified in § 218.92(c), an LOA may be modified without prior notification and an opportunity for public comment. Notification would be published in the Federal Register within 30 days of the action.

End Supplemental Information

Footnotes

1.  The mitigation zone will be 200 yd for low-frequency non-hull mounted sources in bin LF4.

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[FR Doc. 2014-05833 Filed 3-18-14; 8:45 am]

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