Cook Inlet, Alaska is home to some of the greatest tidal energy resources in the U.S., as well as an endangered population of beluga whales (''Delphinapterus leucas''). Successfully permitting and operating a tidal power project in Cook Inlet requires a biological assessment of the potential and realized effects of the physical presence and sound footprint of tidal turbines on the distribution, relative abundance, and behavior of Cook Inlet beluga whales. ORPC Alaska, working with the Project Team—LGL Alaska Research Associates, University of Alaska Anchorage, TerraSond, and Greeneridge Science—undertook the following U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study to characterize beluga whales in Cook Inlet – Acoustic Monitoring of Beluga Whale Interactions with the Cook Inlet Tidal Energy Project (Project).
ORPC Alaska, LLC, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ocean Renewable Power Company, LLC, (collectively, ORPC). ORPC is a global leader in the development of hydrokinetic power systems and eco-conscious projects that harness the power of ocean and river currents to create clean, predictable renewable energy. ORPC is developing a tidal energy demonstration project in Cook Inlet at East Foreland where ORPC has a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) preliminary permit (P-13821).
The Project collected baseline data to characterize pre-deployment patterns of marine mammal distribution, relative abundance, and behavior in ORPC’s proposed deployment area at East Foreland. ORPC also completed work near Fire Island where ORPC held a FERC preliminary permit (P-12679) until March 6, 2013. Passive hydroacoustic devices (previously utilized with bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea) were adapted for study of beluga whales to determine the relative abundance of beluga whale vocalizations within the proposed deployment areas. Hydroacoustic data collected during the Project were used to characterize the ambient acoustic environment of the project site pre-deployment to inform the FERC pilot project process. The Project compared results obtained from this method to results obtained from other passive hydrophone technologies and to visual observation techniques performed simultaneously. This Final Report makes recommendations on the best practice for future data collection, for ORPC’s work in Cook Inlet specifically, and for tidal power projects in general.
This Project developed a marine mammal study design and compared technologies for hydroacoustic and visual data collection with potential for broad application to future tidal and hydrokinetic projects in other geographic areas. The data collected for this Project will support the environmental assessment of future Cook Inlet tidal energy projects, including ORPC’s East Foreland Tidal Energy Project and any tidal energy developments at Fire Island. The Project’s rigorous assessment of technology and methodologies will be invaluable to the hydrokinetic industry for developing projects in an environmentally sound and sustainable way for areas with high marine mammal activity or endangered populations. By combining several different sampling methods this Project will also contribute to the future preparation of a comprehensive biological assessment of ORPC’s projects in Cook Inlet.