The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) funds research on marine mammals through the Environmental Studies Program (ESP). Initially, the ESP addressed broad, general information needed to describe Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) activities to support National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses. However, more specific information needs pertaining to those species given protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) began to develop. In the early ESP years, many baseline studies/surveys of protected and endangered species were conducted to develop an understanding of populations, abundance and distributions, and preferred areas for feeding, breeding and birthing. These studies helped address issues pertaining to space conflict and multiple uses. Concurrent with this baseline work, research needs associated with the potential effects of oil and gas and marine minerals activities began to evolve. These later concerns surrounded potential impacts from sources other than oil spills and drilling discharges, such as behavioral and physiological effects from noise. Several agencies, such as the U.S. Navy (USN) and their Office of Naval Research (ONR), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have a shared need for baseline biological data as well as share in the concern for the effects of sound on marine animals. By the mid-1980’s, studies on the effects of noise on marine mammals were initiated in BOEM Alaska and Pacific OCS Regions. In 1987, BOEM sponsored a comprehensive literature review of the effects of noise, particularly focusing on the oil and gas industries. In 1992, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) provided funding to convert this BOEM report into an expanded publication: “Marine Mammals and Noise” published by Academic Press (1995).
The ONR also provides $800,000 worth of funding for the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP) each year. The ONR has a key relationship with the NOPP and the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Partnerships, a group that is populated by various Federal agencies including BOEM.
Recent Acoustic Research - BOEM - Gulf of Mexico Region.
Surveys of Cetaceans (whales) conducted in the 1990’s suggested that more species of marine mammals existed in the Gulf of Mexico than previously thought, in greater numbers and farther offshore. In 1999, BOEM hosted a workshop on protected species issues in the Gulf to establish its research priorities. One priority was to modify the existing agreement under which the cetacean surveys were being conducted to also explore methods to examine the acoustic impacts of air-guns, specifically on sperm whales. With joint support from BOEM, ONR, and the NMFS, the Sperm Whale Acoustic Monitoring Program (SWAMP) was initiated in June 2000. This two-year pilot program established new methods to study acoustic impacts and baseline whale behavior. These included new tagging technology; passive acoustics; and improved field personnel coordination.
With success in methods and tools development, a directed study to evaluate the effects of seismic operations on sperm whales was begun in 2002. The Sperm Whale Seismic Study (SWSS) received support from BOEM, ONR, the National Science Foundation, and a coalition of seismic and oil industry companies. SWSS further coordinated with related industry research initiatives and the ongoing Gulf of Mexico cetacean surveys co-funded by the Navy.
Since 2002, BOEM has continued to participate in meetings and workshops with ONR, including the Inter-governmental Coordinating Group on Sound and Marine Mammals, ONR’s Marine Mammal and Biology Program Review, as well as cost-sharing studies through the National Ocean Partnership Program.