Guidance for Developing a Marine Mammal Monitoring Plan
Assess the Need for Conservation Measures
Use these steps to assess the need for conservation measures, such as a marine mammal monitoring plan:
- Review the marine mammal acoustic thresholds
- Define the area(s) of potential sound effects
- Evaluate the potential for ESA-listed marine mammal occurrence in the area(s) of potential sound effects
- Where ESA-listed marine mammals are likely to be exposed to sound above the acoustic thresholds, adopt conservation measures to avoid sound exposure that may cause injury or behavioral disruption.
Marine Mammal Monitoring Plan Objectives
The basic premise of a marine mammal monitoring plan is to observe for marine mammals in the defined area of potential sound effects. Stop or do not start work if a marine mammal is sighted in the monitoring area. Do not start work again until the marine mammal has moved out of the monitoring area.
Template of Monitoring Protocols
You may adapt this template of marine mammal monitoring protocols to specific projects. Implement the following measures during pile driving to help prevent acoustic effects on ESA-listed marine mammals:
- The marine mammal observer(s) will be on site at all times during pile driving. Each observer must meet a list of qualifications for marine mammal observers to be considered qualified, or undergo training to meet the qualifications before the start of pile driving.
- Monitor the area of potential sound effects for marine mammals during pile driving. Figure 1 identifies observer position(s); their positions are designed to provide full observer coverage of this area.
- Use a hand-held or boat-mounted GPS device or rangefinder to verify the required monitoring distance from the project site.
- Scan the waters within the area of potential sound effects using binoculars (10X42 or similar) or spotting scopes (20-60 zoom or equivalent), and by making visual observations.
- If weather or sea conditions restrict the observer’s ability to observe, or become unsafe for the monitoring vessel(s) to operate, cease pile installation until conditions allow for monitoring to resume.
- Scan the waters for 20 minutes before and during all pile driving. If ESA-listed marine mammals enter or are observed within the area of potential sound effects during or 20 minutes before pile driving, the observer(s) will immediately notify the on-site supervisor or inspector, and require that pile driving either not initiate or temporarily cease until the animals have moved outside of the area of potential sound effects.
- Do pile driving only during daylight hours when you can visually monitor marine mammals.
- Use a marine mammal observation sheet to record the species, date, and time of any marine mammal sightings. Record marine mammal behavior and any communication between the observer and the contractor during pile driving.
If you observe any dead or dying marine mammal species in the action area, regardless of known cause:
- record the species type (if known), date, time, and location of the observation
- take a photograph of the specimen
- immediately notify NOAA Fisheries.
Minimum Qualifications for Marine Mammal Observers
- Visual acuity in both eyes (correction is permissible) sufficient to discern moving targets at the water's surface with ability to estimate target size and distance. Use of binoculars or spotting scope may be necessary to correctly identify the target.
- Advanced education in biological science, wildlife management, mammalogy or related fields (Bachelor's degree or higher is preferred), or equivalent Alaska Native traditional knowledge.
- Experience and ability to conduct field observations and collect data according to assigned protocols (this may include academic experience).
- Experience or training in the field identification of marine mammals (cetaceans and pinnipeds).
- Sufficient training, orientation or experience with vessel operation and pile driving operations to provide for personal safety during observations.
- Writing skills sufficient to prepare a report of observations. Reports should include such information as the number, type, and location of marine mammals observed; the behavior of marine mammals in the area of potential sound effects during construction; dates and times when observations and in-water construction activities were conducted; dates and times when in-water construction activities were suspended because of marine mammals, etc.
- Ability to communicate orally, by radio or in person, with project personnel to provide real time information on marine mammals observed in the area, as needed.