NOAA 2000-142
Contact: Stephanie Dorezas

Study might harass small numbers of marine mammals

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking comment on an application from Scripps Institution of Oceanography to incidentally harass small numbers of marine mammals as Scripps conducts acoustic research to more accurately measure global ocean temperatures.

The North Pacific Acoustic Laboratory acoustic program will use low frequency sound to help scientists take direct measurements of ocean temperatures, using the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate transmitting source off the north shore of Kaua'i, Hawaii. NOAA Fisheries wants to ensure that the operation of the system has a negligible impact on marine mammals.

Based on previous research conducted in 1995, scientists found no evidence of short-term changes in the abundance and distribution of marine mammals in response to the ATOC source transmissions.

Acoustic thermometry is a method of obtaining information about the temperature field in the ocean from precise measurements of the travel times of sound pulses transmitted through the ocean. The information will be used by scientists to better understand and predict global climate change and the relationship to such oceanic phenomena as
El Niño and La Niña. In particular, it is designed to detect wide-spread changes in the heat content of the ocean's interior. Additional information about the ATOC program and its past effects on marine mammals is contained in an attached fact sheet.

NOAA Fisheries will review and consider all comments before making its determination on whether to grant Scripps a "small take exemption" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The exemption would allow Scripps to "harass" or disturb whales, dolphins or other marine mammals incidental to its operation of the sonar for up to five years, if the agency determines that the ATOC source's effects on marine mammals will be negligible.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act allows the incidental disturbance, called a take, of small numbers of marine mammals. However, NOAA Fisheries must determine, based on the best available science, that these takings will not have more than a negligible impact on the affected species and stocks of marine mammals. The agency also must address any adverse impact on the availability of these species or stocks for Arctic subsistence uses. Finally, NOAA Fisheries must prescribe regulations setting forth the permissible methods of takings and monitoring and reporting requirements.

NOAA Fisheries will be accepting comments on the application through September 25, 2000. If regulations are proposed to govern the taking, interested parties will be provided an additional comment period. Comments should be addressed to Donna Wieting, Chief, Marine Mammal Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. A copy of the application may obtained by contacting the same office.