Letter RE: Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, June/July 2012
MARCUS G. LANGSETH
Dr. Jane Lubchenco
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator
William W. Stelle, Jr.
Regional Administrator, Northwest Region, NOAA NMFS
Lead Scientist, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Interim Director, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Associate Director for Seismology, Geology and Tectonophysics,
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
Senator Maria Cantwell
Congressman Norm Dicks
Howard Goldstein, NOAA Fisheries
Jeannine Cody, NOAA Fisheries
Kellie Foster-Taylor, NOAA Fisheries
Brent Norberg, NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Region
Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Region
Brad Hanson, NOAA Fisheries NWFSC
Dr. John Ford, Dept. of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada
DATE: June 11, 2012
RE: Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, June/July 2012
Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Three Marine Geophysical Surveys in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, June Through July 2012
Request by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Allow the Incidental Take of Marine Mammals during a Marine Geophysical Survey by the R/V Marcus G. Langseth in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, June–July 2012
Late last week via media reports we became aware of the above seismic survey which Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are preparing to begin this week off the Washington and Oregon coasts. The R/V Marcus Langseth is scheduled to depart Astoria, Oregon, for the survey site today.
We, the undersigned, have serious concerns about this project taking place in June, when the endangered Southern Resident orcas are often off the coast of Washington and Oregon, and are frustrated and disappointed at the lack of communication and coordination with agencies and researchers in the Pacific Northwest. In particular, we are concerned about the project moving forward given the lack of adequate Endangered Species Act (ESA) Section 7 consultation over the orcas.
There is currently an ongoing investigation into the cause of death of three year old Southern Resident orca L112, who washed up dead in February with injuries consistent with acoustic or explosive blast trauma. Three other Southern Residents are missing this year, bringing their population down to just 85 whales, leaving them in a fragile state where every loss is significant.
It is clear that the best available science on Southern Resident seasonality was not used by NMFS staff conducting the Section 7 consultation under ESA and reviewing Lamont-Doherty’s take application under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). According to Kellie Foster-Taylor, the NOAA biologist who conducted the Section 7 consultation, the Southern Residents were assumed to remain in inland waters during the project period and therefore were not considered further in the consultation or in the MMPA authorization process. That assumption is simply incorrect. In early summer Southern Residents will typically spend a few days in inland waters, then head out to the coast where salmon are more plentiful. We expect they will be present off the coast during the seismic survey timeframe. We’ve had reports of members of all three pods in the inland waters this weekend, but L pod headed out to the coast Sunday afternoon, and Southern Residents can travel 100 miles a day, which could easily put any of the pods within the survey area within 24 - 48 hours.
This error could have been avoided through communication with regional scientists with expertise in the Southern Resident population. Unfortunately, although NMFS headquarters noticed a proposed incidental harassment authorization for public comment, this notice was apparently not seen by researchers or personnel at NMFS’ Northwest Regional office, and according to Brent Norberg, NMFS’ Northwest Regional director, they did not receive any word of this project from NMFS headquarters. Nor did NMFS, Lamont-Doherty, or NSF contact other researchers in the region.
At several points, the Proposed IHA commits Lamont-Doherty and NSF to coordinate with other researchers, including with “other parties that may have interest in the area and/or may be conducting marine mammal studies in the same region during the seismic surveys.” Yet apparently no effort has been made to contact either the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife or Cascadia Research, which are actively conducting NOAA-funded surveys off Washington.
After the demise of L112, it seems incredible that this project did not raise any red flags for the agencies who apparently signed off on it, and that no notice was given to NOAA Northwest Region, or to the researchers and nonprofits who are monitoring the Southern Residents' travels in that area.
We ask the agencies to postpone the activity for further consideration, and to conduct an adequate Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation in regard to the possible presence of the Southern Resident orcas in the project area. At the very least, we urge immediate coordination and communication between the project leads, NOAA Fisheries Headquarters and the Northwest Regional office, and those of us in the region who actively track the location of the Southern Resident orcas, in an attempt to minimize harassment or death of any members of this fragile community, as well as the other whales that will be in the project area.
Susan Berta and Howard Garrett, Orca Network
John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research Collective
Michael Jasny, NRDC
Dr. Scott Veirs, President, Beam Reach
Val Veirs, OrcaSound/Colorado College
Fred Felleman, WAVE Consulting
David Phillips, Director of the International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute
Will Anderson, Green Vegans