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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 28:187-208 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00670

Monitoring and impact mitigation during a 4D seismic survey near a population of gray whales off Sakhalin Island, Russia

Koen Bröker1,*, Glenn Gailey2, Judy Muir3, Roberto Racca4

1Shell Global Solutions, Lange Kleiweg 40, 2288GK Rijswijk, The Netherlands
2Texas A&M University, 200 Seawolf Pkwy, Galveston, Texas 77553, USA
3LGL Limited environmental research associates, Sidney, British Columbia V8L 3Y8, Canada
4JASCO Applied Sciences, 2305-4464 Markham Street, Victoria, British Columbia V8Z 7X8, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: A 4D seismic survey was conducted in 2010 near the feeding grounds of gray whales off Sakhalin Island, Russia. To minimize disruptions to the whales’ feeding activity and enhance understanding of the potential impacts of seismic surveys on gray whales Eschrichtius robustus, an extensive monitoring and mitigation plan (MMP) was developed. Typically, mitigation plans involve observers on seismic vessels to monitor for the presence of marine mammals in an exclusion zone so as to prevent physical injury to the animals. Due to the protected status of western gray whales, an additional protection zone based on a behavioural disturbance threshold of exposure of 156 dB re μPa2-s per pulse was applied for whales within their feeding habitat defined by the estimated 95% abundance contour. Real-time radio-transmitting acoustic recorders were deployed along this contour to verify modelled acoustic footprints within the feeding grounds. Shore- and vessel-based observation teams monitored for the presence and activity of whales. A real-time GIS workflow tracking procedure was developed that integrated acoustic and whale positioning data to determine if sound levels at a whales’ position within the feeding area exceeded the behavioural threshold, in which case a shut-down of the seismic source was implemented. Additionally, behaviour and distribution surveys were conducted before, during and after the seismic survey to evaluate the effectiveness of the MMP. No large changes in whale movement, respiration, or distribution patterns were observed during the seismic survey. This could be interpreted to mean that the MMP was effective in reducing the sound exposure and behavioural responses of gray whales to seismic sounds.

KEY WORDS: Seismic · Mitigation · Western gray whale · Eschrichtius robustus · Sakhalin · Piltun · Sea of Okhotsk · Anthropogenic disturbance

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Cite this article as: Bröker K, Gailey G, Muir J, Racca R (2015) Monitoring and impact mitigation during a 4D seismic survey near a population of gray whales off Sakhalin Island, Russia. Endang Species Res 28:187-208. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00670

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