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Pacific Coastal & Marine Science Center

Coastal and Marine Earthquake Studies

Western Coastal and Marine Earthquake Studies.


SHIPS: Seismic Hazards Investigation in Puget Sound

SHIPS Environmental Issues

These issues center on the potential adverse impact of airgun noise on the environment, particularly on marine mammals and threatened bird species.

In preparing for the SHIPS project, we contacted many environmental groups, chief among them: the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Ocean Advocates, Sea Shephards, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

We sent out notices of our survey to 75 SCUBA dive shops in Washington and British Columbia.

SHIPS obtained environmental permits from:

U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service
An Incidental Harassment Authorization allows airguns to be used around marine mammals, provided that expert oversight is in force.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A Biologic Assessment determined that SHIPS would have only insignificant impact on the marbled murrelet, a threated seabird that dives deeply underwater.

Canadian Dept Ocean and Fisheries
The Canadian salmon fishery is of prime concern; SHIPS had no impact on this resource.

SHIPS obtained political permits from:

U.S. State Department
for the Canadian ship Tully to work in US waters.

Canadian Foreign Office
for the Thompson to work in Canadian waters.

Ten percent of the total cost of the SHIPS survey paid for biologists, who ensured the safety of marine mammals. The biologists observed mammal behavior from both ships, from small boats, and from an airplane. They had the authority to order the airguns to be shut off, when mammals entered zones where they might suffer hearing damage.

Regarding marine mammals, the crucial issue is whether or not they would be injured or harassed by loud underwater sound from the airgun array. To find out, the USGS undertook a detailed analysis of underwater sound propagation and conducted a field test, using a small airgun, while a bioacoustician observed the behavior of marine mammals.

On March 24, John Calambokidis, the head of the marine mammal observation team, issued a preliminary statement on the results of marine mammal observation during SHIPS. The mitigation efforts were successful in reducing the risk of injuies to marine mammals.

Summary of Acoustic Modeling

During test shooting in Lake Washington dead fish were observed in the water near the ship. An investigation was conducted but it is unclear whether the fish kill was a consequence of airgun operation or some other phenomenon.

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