An UME is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act as a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response. There are seven criteria used to determine whether a mortality event is "unusual." If the national Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events, a group of marine mammal health experts, determines that an event meets one or more of the criteria, then it forwards a recommendation to NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for Fisheries to declare a UME.
The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events developed a set of criteria for determining an unusual mortality event:
Any of these criteria may indicate an unusual mortality event.
For more information, see the Federal Register notice (71 FR 75234), published on December 14, 2006, that announced these criteria.
It authorizes a federal investigation led by the expertise of the working group to the investigate the event and focus:
All active and closed UMEs are listed on our webpage.
UMEs have occurred in coastal waters throughout the United States. The states with the highest number of declared UMEs are California and Florida.
Bottlenose dolphins, California sea lions and manatees are the most common marine mammals involved in UMEs.
While the cause of many UMEs is unknown, the investigation aims to determine the cause of all UMEs, when possible. These causes have included infections, biotoxins, human interactions and malnutrition.
Brevetoxin and domoic acid are the most common biotoxins associated with UMEs, primarily in bottlenose dolphins, manatees and California sea lions.
In 1991, NOAA Fisheries established the working group in response to large numbers of marine mammal mortalities in the late 1980s. The working group was formalized when Congress passed the 1992 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) as the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Act. The working group's primary role is to determine when an UME is occurring and to help direct the response and investigation. Investigation these events has led to a greater understanding of the impacts of human-related and natural causes of mortality in marine mammal populations.
MMPA section 405 (16 USC 1421d) establishes the Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event Fund, describing its purposes and how the public can donate to the fund. According to the MMPA, the fund “shall be available only for use by the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior:
The National Contingency Plan for Response to Unusual Marine Mammal Mortality Events outlines the types of expenses that are reimbursable under the fund and the process for requesting reimbursement.
Learn more about the UME Contingency Fund.
The following can be deposited into the fund:
The public may use Pay.gov to donate to the UME Contingency Fund for this or other UMEs and help cover costs incurred by the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.