2009 Aerial Surveys of Endangered Whales in the Beaufort Sea

March 07, 2009

In 1953, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) (43 USC 1331-1356) charged the
U.S.
Secretary of the Interior with the responsibility for administering minerals exploration and development of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The Act empowered the Secretary to formulate regulations so that its provisions might be met. The OCSLA Amendments of 1978 (43 USC 1802) established a policy for the management of oil and natural gas in the OCS and for protection of the marine and coastal environments. The amended OCSLA states that the Secretary of the Interior shall conduct studies in areas or regions of sales to ascertain the “environmental impacts on the marine and coastal environments of the outer Continental Shelf and the coastal areas which may be affected by oil and gas development” (43 USC 1346).

Subsequent to the passage of the OCSLA, the Secretary of the Interior designated the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the administrative agency responsible for leasing submerged federal lands and the Conservation Division of the U.S. Geological Survey for classification and evaluation of submerged federal lands and regulation of exploration and production. In 1982, the
U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) assumed these responsibilities.

To provide information used in environmental impact statements and environmental assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 (42 USC 4321-4347), and to assure protection of marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 (16 USC 1361-1407) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (16 USC 1531-1543), the BLM funded numerous studies involving acquisition and analysis of marine mammal and other environmental data.

In June 1978, the BLM entered into an Endangered Species Act Section 7 consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The purpose of the consultation was to determine the likely effects of the proposed Beaufort Sea Oil and Gas Lease Sale on endangered bowhead (Balaena mysticetus) and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). NMFS determined that insufficient information existed to conclude whether the proposed Beaufort Sea sale was or was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of bowhead and gray whales. In August 1978, NMFS recommended studies to the BLM that would fill the information needs identified during the Section 7 consultation. Subsequent Biological Opinions for leasing and exploration in the Beaufort Sea (Sales 71, 87, and 97) and the 1988 Arctic Region Biological Opinion (ARBO) used for Beaufort and Chukchi Sea sales (Sales 124, 126, 144, and 170), recommended continuing studies of whale distribution and OCS-industry effects on bowhead whales (USDOC, NOAA, NMFS 1982, 1983, 1987, and 1988) and monitoring of bowhead whale presence during periods when geophysical exploration and drilling are occurring. The current ARBO, issued by NMFS in 2006 for leasing and exploration in the Beaufort Sea, also recommends that whale distribution studies during the fall migration continue, along with acoustic monitoring studies to describe the impact of exploration activities on the migration path of bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea.

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Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 03/12/2019

Research in Alaska Whales Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals