Marine Mammal Parts and Products in Alaska
Frequently asked questions about what is legal to buy, eat, retain, harvest and travel with.
Can I legally buy baleen from a street vendor? Are there any restrictions on what I can do with it?
Yes, baleen (normally this is from the endangered bowhead whale) may be legally sold by Alaska Natives as Traditional Native Handicraft under both the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The baleen must be cleaned and polished to qualify as handicraft. Once purchased, bowhead baleen may be transported out of State, but may not be subsequently sold or taken outside of the United States.
Can I legally buy or sell bowhead whale meat or muktuk or Cook Inlet beluga whale meat or muktuk?
No. It is illegal for anyone, including Alaska Natives, to buy or sell bowhead whale or Cook Inlet beluga whale meat or muktuk.
I have found some marine mammal bones, can I legally retain these for personal use?
Maybe. Federal regulations at 50 CFR 216.26 state that any bones, teeth, or ivory of any dead marine mammal may be collected from a beach or from land within ¼ of a mile of the ocean, including bays and estuaries. These marine mammal parts must be registered and identified by the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, and may then be transferred or otherwise possessed. Call Robert Marvelle, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement, (907) 586-9329. Parts from marine mammals that are listed as endangered under the ESA may not be collected, with certain exceptions (such as collection by Alaska Natives for the production of authentic handicrafts). Humpback whales and Steller sea lions in Alaska include animals from ESA-listed and non-ESA-listed Distinct Population Segments (DPSs). The Beringia DPS bearded seal and Arctic ringed seal were listed as threatened species under the ESA on December 28, 2012. However, NOAA Fisheries has not yet issued regulations under section 4(d) of the ESA to prohibit “take” of these threatened species and currently, bearded and ringed seal bones or teeth may be collected from beaches in Alaska. A June 12, 2019, NOAA Fisheries guidance document explains how NOAA Fisheries will treat the collection of bones, teeth, or ivory from these four species in Alaska. You should contact NOAA Fisheries prior to collecting any marine mammal parts to ensure their scientific value is not lost, for assistance in determining whether the parts are from a threatened or endangered species, and to legally register the parts. Contact NOAA Fisheries in Juneau at (907) 586- 7285, or Anchorage: (907) 271-1823.
Can marine mammal bones or skeletons be collected by public institutions or museums for display and/or education?
Yes. Again, NOAA Fisheries can register such parts and provide certification for the bones to be retained for these purposes. Contact NOAA Fisheries in Juneau at (907) 586- 7285, or Anchorage: (907) 271-1823.
How do I know if ivory artwork is genuine?
Artwork purchased from gift stores and major outlets usually has a label identifying it as Authentic Alaska Native handicraft. Buyers should be cautious of purchasing handicraft from marine mammal parts which are not marked as such.
I have marine mammal parts which pre-date the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Are there any restrictions on what I can do with these?
If you can establish the parts were obtained before 1972, neither the MMPA nor ESA apply, and there are no legal restrictions or prohibitions on what you may do with these. However, the burden of proof lies with you, and you may be asked to produce evidence of the history of such parts in the event you wish to sell them. This prior status may be established by submitting an affidavit to NOAA Fisheries (50 CFR 216.14). Fossilized ivory is assumed to predate both Acts; no prohibitions apply.
I am an Alaskan Native...
Do I need to register or require a license to harvest marine mammals? What marine mammals can I harvest?
Provided you are at least one-quarter Alaska Native by blood, no authorization from the Federal Government is needed to harvest most marine mammals for subsistence. Tribal government authorities should be contacted before hunting in any area of the State of Alaska. The Cook Inlet beluga whale may only be hunted under an agreement between NOAA Fisheries and an Alaska Native Organization. Contact NOAA Fisheries in Anchorage at (907) 271-5006 for information on these whales. Large whales (such as bowheads, gray, and humpbacks) are regulated under international agreements and may not be hunted unless specific quotas have been set by the International Whaling Commission.
Can I take a parka or other clothing made from marine mammal skins outside of the United States?
It depends. The Marine Mammal Protection Act provides that non-endangered marine mammal parts and handicrafts, excluding edible portions, may be both imported and exported by Native peoples of Alaska, Russia, Canada, and Greenland for cultural exchange purposes. So if you are an Alaska Native, you may wear a parka made of seal skins when traveling to these countries as part of a cultural exchange. For all other circumstances and before leaving the United States, please check with the U.S. Customs Service and the customs department of the foreign country you will be entering for information pertaining to this import.
I am not an Alaskan Native...
Can I buy some muktuk to eat?
Maybe. It is illegal to buy or sell bowhead whale or Cook Inlet beluga whale meat or muktuk. Edible portions of other threatened or endangered marine mammals may be sold, but only by Alaska Natives in Native towns or villages for Native consumption. Edible portions of marine mammals that are not listed as threatened or endangered may be sold either A) for Native consumption or B) to non Natives if sold in Native towns and villages in Alaska (Native villages include Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau). Once purchased, these products do not have to be consumed in the Native village or town.
Can I eat muktuk if I am I am attending a Native potlatch celebration?
Yes. Provided it was legally harvested, edible portions from a marine mammal may be consumed by both Natives and non Natives.
Can I participate in marine mammal hunting?
No, unless you are regarded as a member of an Alaska Native village or group, and your father or mother were also regarded as a member of that village or group. Marriage to an Alaska Native does not convey the right to harvest marine mammals under the Native exemption to these Acts.
What are the rules about traveling with walrus ivory?
For import/export issues:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Office of Law Enforcement
PH: (703) 358-1949
For further questions concerning
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES):
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Division of Management Authority
PH: (703) 358-2104
To register bones or teeth in Alaska, please call:
Robert Marvelle, NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement
PH: (907) 586-9329