Beluga Whale Monitoring Program
What is being done to prevent and minimize impacts to marine mammals during construction?
- Construction and operationally generated underwater noise is being evaluated to develop a baseline sound index. A study will be conducted and a final report will be generated that identifies structural and operational noise reduction measures to minimize increased noise at the expanded Port to the maximum extent practicable.
- Sound levels and distance attenuation isopleths will be mapped.
- This baseline sound index will be collaborated with concurrent marine mammal monitoring efforts to statistically correlate construction and operational generated noise exposures with presence of beluga whales with documentation of any altered behaviors observed (e.g. a dose-response analysis).
- A passive acoustic monitoring plan will be conducted to correlate unseen mammals detected by underwater hydrophone with visual observations.
- In collaboration with NMFS, a marine mammal monitoring program has been established to estimate the frequency at which beluga whales are present in the project footprint, to characterize habitat use and behavior of belugas near the Port during ice free months, and to assess the impacts of noise on beluga whale behavior and movements – pre-construction, construction, post-construction. For additional information about the scope of work and findings thus far, view the annual marine mammal reports.
- Enforcement of construction management practices to minimize impacts:
- Front line observers on the construction team with authorization to shut down construction activities during presence of whales within an established safety radii
- Direct radio communication with the Alaska Pacific University marine mammal observation team
- Slow start of daily construction activities to allow whales to move out of the safety radii before construction fully ramps up
- In water impact pile driving will not be allowed within two hours of either side of low tide.
- Monthly evaluation of these management practices to determine methods to improve construction techniques.
What is being done to increase awareness at the Port about reporting opportunistic sightings whenever a whale is seen, from shore or from vessels calling at the Port of Anchorage?
- The Port of Anchorage has established a hotline phone number for direct calls to NOAA/NMFS: 1-800-853-1964.
- Signage has been installed at the Port entrance, and at the mouth of Ship Creek at the public boat ramp, providing public awareness and access to the hotline reporting number near the waterfront.
- The Port has established a long term formalized marine mammal sighting and notification procedure for all Port users, visitors, tenants, and subcontractors. All personnel having business at the Port attend a marine mammal observation reporting briefing during their mandatory security briefing for access, and are provided the hotline number and reporting forms. These anecdotal sightings are then reported to NMFS as opportunistic sightings.
What types of trends are being seen in whale sightings from the Port’s location?
The program is too new to identify solid trends; however, beluga whales are frequently sighted at or near the Port, and tend to migrate through, primarily in the month of August.
How are the safety radii established and enforced?
The safety radii are based upon underwater sound contours, or isopleths. Approximate isopleths have been established at 190, 180, and 160 decibels from nearby pile driving activities. These isopleths were established during a test program of similar, but not exact, type of piles in a nearby location. These isopleths will be re-evaluated and adjusted during construction based upon actual measurements during construction. Safety zones will then be empirically determined and implemented. This safety zone is monitored during pile driving for the presence of marine mammals before, during and after any noise generating activity. If the safety radius is obscured by fog or poor lighting conditions, the construction subcontractor is committed to cease all pile driving until the entire safety radius is visible.
Why has the Port applied for an “incidental take” permit and what does this NOAA/NMFS issued permit authorize?