[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 157 (Monday, August 15, 2011)]
[Pages 50457-50460]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-20679]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XA567

Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Military Training Activities 
and Research Conducted Within the Mariana Islands Range Complex

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

ACTION: Notice of issuance of a Letter of Authorization.


SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as 
amended, and implementing regulations, notice is hereby given that NMFS 
has issued a letter of authorization (LOA) to the U.S. Navy (Navy) to 
take marine mammals incidental to Navy training, maintenance, and 
research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) activities to be 
conducted within the Mariana Islands Range Complex (MIRC) Study Area 
for the period of August 12, 2011, through August 11, 2012.

DATES: This authorization is effective from August 12, 2011, through 
August 11, 2012.

ADDRESSES: The LOA and supporting documentation may be obtained by 
writing to P. Michael Payne, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 
East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, or by telephoning one of 
the contacts listed here.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jolie Harrison or Brian D. Hopper, 
Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 
1361 et seq.) directs NMFS to allow, upon request, the incidental 
taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified 
activity (other than commercial fishing), if certain findings are made 
by NMFS and regulations are issued. Under the MMPA, the term ``take'' 
means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill or to attempt to harass, hunt, 
capture, or kill marine mammals.
    Regulations governing the taking of marine mammals by the Navy 
incidental to MIRC training, maintenance, and RDT&E became effective on 
August 3, 2010 (75 FR 45527, August 3, 2010), and remain in effect 
through August 3, 2015. The MIRC study area encompasses a 501,873 
square nautical mile area (nm\2\) around the islands, including Guam, 
Tinian, Saipan, Rota, Farallon de Meinilla, and also includes ocean 
areas in both the Pacific Ocean and Philippine Sea. For detailed 
information on this action, please refer to the August 2010 final rule. 
These regulations include mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements and establish a framework to authorize incidental take 
through the issuance of LOAs.

Summary of Request

    On April 18, 2011, NMFS received a request from the Navy for a 
renewal of an LOA issued on August 12, 2010, for the taking of marine 
mammals incidental to training and research activities conducted within 
the MIRC Study Area under regulations issued on August 3, 2010 (75 FR 
45527). The Navy has complied with the measures required in 50 CFR 
218.104 and 218.105, as well as the associated 2010 LOA, and submitted 
the reports and other documentation required in the final rule and the 
2010 LOA.

Summary of Activity Under the 2010 LOA

    As described in the Navy's exercise reports (both classified and 
unclassified), in 2010, the training activities conducted by the Navy 
were within the scope and amounts authorized by the 2010 LOA and the 
levels of take remain within the scope and amounts contemplated by the 
final rule. Between August 12, 2010 and February 15, 2011, the Navy 
conducted one Multi Strike Group Exercise. The exercise was conducted 
from September 16-21, 2010 and included one Sinking Exercise (SINKEX), 
one underwater demolition exercise, and one Air-to-Surface Missile 
Exercise (A-S MISSILEX).

Planned Activities and Estimated Take for 2011-2012

    In 2011-2012, the Navy expects to conduct the same type and amount 
of training contemplated in the final rule and identified in the 2010 
LOA. Therefore, for the 2011 LOA, NMFS authorizes the same amount of 
take that was authorized in 2010.

Summary of Monitoring, Reporting, and Other Requirements Under the 2010 

Annual Exercise Reports

    The Navy submitted their classified and unclassified 2010 exercise 
reports within the required timeframes and the unclassified report is 
posted on NMFS' Web site: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm. NMFS has reviewed both reports and they contain the 
information required by the 2010 LOA. The reports indicate the amounts 
of different types of training that occurred from August 12, 2010, 
through February 15, 2011. As mentioned above, the Navy conducted one 
Multi Strike Group Exercise consisting of various training exercises 
addressed in the rule (the rule analyzed the likely annual impacts of 
up to two SINKEXs, 50 underwater demolitions, and two A-S MISSILEXs).
    The reports also list specific information gathered when marine 
mammals were detected by Navy watchstanders, such as how far an animal 
was from the vessel, whether sonar was in use, and whether it was 
powered or shut down. This information indicates that the Navy 
implemented the safety zone mitigation measures as required. During the 
Multi-Strike Group Exercise conducted in September, 2010, no instances 
of obvious behavioral disturbance were reported by the Navy 
watchstanders in their 10 marine mammal sightings

[[Page 50458]]

totaling 39 animals. Furthermore, safety zones were adhered to, and 
vessels and aircraft applied mitigation measures when marine mammals 
were observed within the requisite zones. There were two marine mammal 
sightings within 200 yards of a Mid-Frequency Active Sonar (MFAS) 
source during this exercise. In both instances, the proper mitigation 
was conducted and the source was shut down; no unusual behavior was 

2010 Monitoring

    The Monitoring Plan for MIRC committed the Navy to conduct 
monitoring in 2010 and 2011 in anticipation of the MMPA regulations and 
LOAs being issued in March 2010. Due to unforeseen delays, the final 
rule and LOA were not issued until August 2010; however, the Navy had 
already prepared a draft Monitoring Plan for MIRC, and the visual 
surveys conducted January through April 2010 in collaboration with the 
NMFS Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) were consistent 
with its objectives. No additional visual surveys occurred between 
August 12, 2010 and February 12, 2011, but a winter survey was 
conducted from February 17 to March 3, 2011. In addition, a summer 
survey and the deployment of passive acoustic monitoring devices is 
scheduled for September 2011 and the Mariana Islands Sea Turtle and 
Cetacean Survey (MISTCS) acoustic data analysis is currently underway. 
The Navy's monitoring accomplishments are discussed in their 2010 
Monitoring Report, which is posted on NMFS' Web site (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm). The Navy submitted the 
2010 Monitoring Report within the required timeframe. The report 
includes a summary of their 2010 monitoring effort and results 
(beginning on page 4 of the monitoring report) and the specific reports 
for each individual effort are presented in the appendix.

Visual Surveys

    From January 20 to February 6, 2010, visual observations for 
cetaceans occurred during an 18-day transit from Hawaii to Guam aboard 
the NOAA R/V OSCAR ELTON SETTE. These monitoring efforts and their 
findings, if available, will be discussed in greater detail below.
    The R/V SETTE surveyed 1,285 nm of trackline over 16 days. The 
visual observer teams encountered 25 cetacean groups and obtained group 
size estimates for all groups. Two of the sightings were made by an 
independent observer. Eight of the 25 cetacean groups were identified 
to species. Time and weather limitations prevented the ship's approach 
of more of the sighted cetacean groups.
    The R/V SETTE also conducted visual observations for cetaceans 
during the 17-day transit from Guam to Hawaii from April 19 to May 3, 
2010. The visual observer teams encountered 21 cetacean groups and 
obtained group size estimates for all groups. One sighting was made by 
an independent observer. Sixteen of the 21 cetacean groups were 
identified to species. Time and weather limitations prevented the 
ship's approach of more of the sighted cetacean groups; however, on one 
occasion the small boat was launched for biopsy sampling and 
photography of a group of pilot whales.
    From March 20 to April 11, 2010, visual observations for cetaceans 
occurred during transit periods of a 23-day oceanography survey around 
Guam and the southern portion of the Northern Mariana Islands. The 
observer team encountered nine cetacean groups and was able to identify 
three to species. Neither photos nor biopsy samples were collected 
during this cruise because cetacean observations were ancillary to the 
primary objective and time constraints did not allow the ship to stop 
for photographing groups or collecting samples.
    Small vessel surveys for marine mammals were conducted from January 
to April 2010 by NMFS' PIFSC around the islands of Guam, Saipan and 
Tinian. During the surveys conducted around Guam from February 9-18, 
2010, the observer team encountered 11 groups of cetaceans and 
identified 10 of the groups to species. A total of 2,769 digital images 
were taken for species identification and individual recognition. 
Surveys conducted around Saipan and Tinian from February 22-March 3, 
2010, encountered seven cetacean groups and all were identified to 
species. A total of 971 digital images were taken for the purposes of 
species identification and individual recognition.

Photo Data Collection and Biopsy Sampling

    In conjunction with the vessel surveys from Hawaii to Guam, the 
SETTE's small boat was launched on two occasions for photography of 
sighted animals and biopsy sampling. A single biopsy sample was 
collected from a sei whale in the waters off of Wake Island. The sample 
was collected from the Safeboat using a dart fired from a crossbow. 
Upon collection, tissue samples are sectioned in half, with one half 
archived at PIFSC and the other sent to the genetics lab at the 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center for studies on the genetic 
population structure of cetaceans in the Pacific. During the transit 
from Guam to Hawaii, the SETTE's small boat was launched on one 
occasion for biopsy sampling and photography of a group of pilot 
whales. A total of 1,243 photos were collected. Most photos were taken 
from the flying bridge or bow of the SETTE. Over 200 photos were taken 
from the small boat during the pilot whale encounter. Most of these 
photos will be used for individual identification. Two biopsy sampling 
attempts were made, but no samples were collected.
    During the small vessel surveys in the waters surrounding Guam, 
Saipan and Tinian, a total of 2,769 photos were taken and eight biopsy 
samples were collected. Photos will be used to study social behavior 
and movement patterns of identified individuals and to study external 
features such as morphology or coloration patterns, which may vary 
geographically. The genetic data from the biopsy samples will be used 
to study the population structure of the sampled cetacean group.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring

    In addition to the visual observations conducted during the high 
seas surveys between Hawaii and Guam, a hydrophone array was towed 
behind the SETTE and sonobuoys were deployed to acoustically monitor 
for the presence of vocalizing cetaceans. The towed array was deployed 
throughout the cruise--collecting nearly continuous high-frequency 
clean acoustic data from the four hydrophones. Over 100 acoustic 
detections were collected, consisting primarily of sperm and minke 
whale vocalizations. In addition, 37 sonobuoys were deployed over 15 
days. Cetacean vocalizations detected by the sonobuoys included 
humpback, sperm, minke, fin, and sei whale, as well as possible 
delphinid clicks and whistles. The SETTE also towed the hydrophone 
array and deployed sonobuoys during the 15-day transit from Guam to 
Hawaii. Over 150 hours of acoustic data were recorded by the four 
hydrophones. Sixty-seven vocalizations were detected, consisting 
primarily of sperm and minke whale; however, other acoustic detections 
included pilot whales, melon-headed whales, and false killer whales. In 
addition, six acoustic detections matched the visual sightings of the 
observation team. Similar to the first leg of the cruise, 37 sonobuoys 
were deployed over the course of 15 days. Cetacean vocalizations 
detected by the sonobuoys included delphinid whistles and sperm, minke, 
and fin whales.

[[Page 50459]]

    The Navy purchased four passive acoustic monitoring devices that 
will be deployed around the Mariana Islands during the summer 2011 
visual survey. These devices are capable of gathering data throughout 
the year. In addition, if funds permit, data from passive acoustic 
monitoring devices currently deployed off Saipan by other researchers 
will be analyzed cooperatively among the various agencies. Finally, 
data analysis is currently underway involving the four months of 
acoustic data gathered using towed arrays and sonobuoys during the 
MISTCS in 2007. This dataset represents a large compilation of acoustic 
detections, many of which also correlate to visual detections. Results 
from this analysis will be provided in the 2012 Annual Monitoring 
    In conclusion, the Navy's implementation of the monitoring plan 
accomplished several goals, which contribute to a larger body of data 
intended to better characterize the abundance, distribution, life 
history, and behaviors of the species in the MIRC study area. In 
general, the monitoring conducted in 2010 satisfied the objectives of 
the monitoring plan and specifically contributed to the following: (1) 
A greater knowledge and understanding of the density and distribution 
of species within the MIRC study area; (2) the vocalizations of 
different species, which advances the development of automated 
classification software; and (3) establishment of a better baseline of 
species distribution and abundance that will assist the Navy and NMFS 
in determining, through adaptive management, whether a shift in 
monitoring is warranted.
    NMFS concludes that the results of these monitoring efforts when 
taken together with the findings presented in the 2010 exercise report 
(see Annual Exercise Report section) do not warrant making changes to 
the current monitoring/mitigation requirements identified in the LOA. 
While the data collected by the Navy through monitoring and reporting 
builds upon the existing body of information in a valuable way, none of 
the new data contradict, or amend, the assumptions that underlie the 
findings in the 2010 rule in a manner that would suggest changing the 
current mitigation or monitoring.

Adaptive Management

    In general, adaptive management allows NMFS to consider new 
information from different sources to determine (with input from the 
Navy regarding practicability) if monitoring efforts should be modified 
if new information suggests that such modifications are appropriate. 
All of the 5-year rules and LOAs issued to the Navy include an adaptive 
management component, which includes an annual meeting between NMFS and 
the Navy. NMFS and the Navy conducted an adaptive management meeting in 
October, 2010, which representatives from the Marine Mammal Commission 
participated in, wherein we reviewed the Navy monitoring results 
through August 1, 2010, discussed other Navy research and development 
efforts, and discussed other new information that could potentially 
inform decisions regarding Navy mitigation and monitoring. None of the 
information contained in the monitoring report or discussed at the 
annual adaptive management meeting led NMFS to recommend any 
modifications to the existing mitigation or monitoring measures.

Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Report

    The 2010 LOA required that the Navy update the ICMP Plan to reflect 
development in three areas, specifically: (1) Identifying more specific 
monitoring sub-goals under the major goals that have been identified; 
(2) characterizing Navy Range Complexes and study areas within the 
context of the prioritization guidelines described in the ICMP Plan; 
and (3) continuing to develop data management, organization and access 
procedures. The Navy has updated the ICMP Plan as required. Because the 
ICMP is an evolving Program, we have posted the ICMP on the NMFS Web 
site: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm.
    Further, the Navy convened a monitoring meeting in October, 2010 to 
solicit input from NMFS and marine mammal and acoustic scientists 
regarding the comprehensive development and improvement of the more 
specific monitoring that should occur across the Navy's training areas. 
Subsequent to those discussions, the Navy assembled a scientific 
advisory group (of Navy and outside scientists) that will work on a 
proposed Navy training area-wide monitoring plan that better considers 
the biological, logistical, and resource-specific factors that are 
applicable in each area (and which are summarized in the updated ICMP) 
to maximize the effectiveness of Navy monitoring within the context of 
the information that is most needed. Subsequently, NMFS and MMC 
representatives will review this proposed Navy-wide monitoring plan, 
which will likely reflect monitoring differences in some Navy training 
areas from what has been required in the previous LOAs.

2011 Monitoring Meeting

    The regulations that established the framework for authorizing the 
taking of marine mammals incidental to Navy training activities 
required the Navy, with guidance and support from NMFS, to convene a 
Monitoring Workshop in 2011 (50 CFR 218.108(d)(2)). The Marine Mammal 
Monitoring Workshop, which included scientists, representatives from 
non-governmental organizations, and Marine Mammal Commission staff, 
took place in June 2011. Pursuant to the regulations, this workshop 
presented a consolidated overview of monitoring activities conducted in 
2009 and 2010, as well as the outcomes of selected monitoring-related 
research. In 2010, the Navy convened a Scientific Advisory Group (SAG), 
comprised of experts in the fields of marine mammals and underwater 
acoustics, to review the Navy's current monitoring plans and make 
recommendations. The results of the SAG's review were also presented at 
the meeting. Participants engaged in open discussion of the lessons 
learned, and discussed how to improve the Navy's monitoring plan moving 
forward. If changes to monitoring approaches are identified at the 
workshop that can be implemented during the annual LOA renewal process 
and subsequent 5-year regulations, the Navy and NMFS will modify the 
Navy-wide monitoring plan and propose appropriate changes to the 
monitoring measures in specific LOAs for the different Range Complexes 
and training areas. For training areas with substantive monitoring 
modifications, NMFS will subsequently publish proposed LOAs, with the 
modifications, in the Federal Register and solicit public input. After 
addressing public comments and making changes as appropriate, NMFS will 
issue new training area LOAs that reflect the new Navy-wide monitoring 


    The Navy complied with the requirements of the 2010 LOA. Based on 
our review of the record, NMFS has determined that the marine mammal 
take resulting from the 2010 military readiness training and research 
activities falls within the levels previously anticipated, analyzed, 
and authorized. Further, the level of taking authorized in 2011 for the 
Navy's MIRC activities is consistent with our previous findings made 
for the total taking allowed under the MIRC regulations. Finally, the 
record supports NMFS'

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conclusion that the total number of marine mammals taken by the 2011 
MIRC activities will have no more than a negligible impact on the 
affected species or stock of marine mammals and will not have an 
unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species or 
stocks for taking for subsistence uses.
    Accordingly, NMFS has issued a one-year LOA for Navy training 
exercises conducted in the MIRC Study Area from August 12, 2011, 
through August 11, 2012.

    Dated: August 9, 2011.
James H. Lecky,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
[FR Doc. 2011-20679 Filed 8-12-11; 8:45 am]