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Endangered Species Act Section 7 Biological Opinion: Issuance of Incidental Harassment Authorization under section 101(a)(5)(a) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to Shell Offshore, Inc. for exploratory drilling in the Alaskan Chukchi Sea in 2012.
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    This opinion will address authorization by NMFS of the incidental and unintentional taking of bowhead, fin, and humpback whales and ringed and bearded seals due to exploratory oil drilling to Shell Offshore Inc. and Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc. (collectively “Shell”) on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) waters of the Chukchi Sea. Section 101 (a)(5) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), directs the Secretary of Commerce to allow, upon request by U.S. citizens engaged in a specific activity (other than commercial fishing) in a specified geographical region, the incidental but not intentional taking of small numbers of marine mammals if certain findings are made. Such authorization may be accomplished through regulations and issuance of letters of authorization under those regulations, or through issuance of an incidental harassment authorization (IHA). These authorizations may be granted only if an activity would have no more than a negligible effect on the species (or stock) in question, if the activity would not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the marine mammal for subsistence uses, and if the permissible method of taking and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking are set forth to ensure the activity will have the least practicable adverse effect on the species or stock and its habitat. These authorizations are often requested for oil and gas activities which produce underwater noise capable of harassing or harming marine mammals. Harassment is a form of taking otherwise prohibited by the MMPA and ESA.
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