Comments sought on proposals for Atlantic geophysical survey interaction with marine mammals

UPDATED: July 3, 2017. NOAA is extending the public comment period, originally scheduled to end July 6, for an additional 15 days, scheduled to end July 21. This action is not related to a separate public notice released today by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which concerns preparation of a new five-year leasing program (including the Atlantic Ocean) through August 17.

NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment on proposals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow companies that are proposing to conduct geophysical surveys in the Atlantic Ocean using seismic air guns to incidentally, but not intentionally, harass marine mammals.

Atlantic spotted dolphin swims through the water.
Atlantic spotted dolphin swims through the water. (NOAA)

The agency is proposing to issue authorizations that prescribe monitoring, reporting, and mitigation measures to minimize the impacts of the surveys to marine mammals.

NOAA Fisheries reviewed five separate requests from companies proposing to conduct geophysical surveys using seismic air gun arrays in the Atlantic Ocean. The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management recently resumed its permitting process for geophysical surveys in the Atlantic Ocean under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and as a result NOAA Fisheries is now moving forward with the related proposed incidental harassment authorizations.

The proposed authorizations stipulate that any survey operation use mitigation and monitoring measures in order to minimize harm to marine mammals, including:

  • Observers on board seismic survey vessels to listen and watch for marine life and alert operators if a protected species comes within a certain distance.

  • Operational restrictions designed to eliminate or reduce impacts to sensitive species in their preferred habitats.

  • Acoustic monitoring to detect marine mammal vocalizations beneath the ocean surface.

  • Gradual increases of seismic activity to alert animals in the area and reduce potential for exposure to intense noise.

  • Required shutdowns when certain sensitive species or groups of animals are observed.

  • Survey vessel strike avoidance procedures.

The agency is accepting public comments on the proposed authorizations until July 21.

Continuing this process is consistent with the goals of Presidential Executive Order 13795, Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, which encourages energy exploration and production that fosters energy security and resilience for Americans, while ensuring those activities are safe and environmentally responsible.

NOAA Fisheries will use the best available information in considering the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act relating to incidental take during proposed geophysical surveys in this region. The public comment period ensures interested stakeholders are able to provide information for consideration in NOAA Fisheries’ final determinations.


Jennie Lyons, 301-427-8013
Katherine Brogan, 301-427-8030