Which marine mammals does NOAA Fisheries protect?
We protect and conserve all dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals, and sea lions under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for manatees, dugongs, walrus, sea otters, and polar bears under the same act. Some marine mammals may also be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, providing them protection under both laws.
Why do we protect marine mammals?
The Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted in response to increasing concerns among scientists and the public that significant declines in some species of marine mammals were caused by human activities. The act established a national policy to prevent marine mammal species and population stocks from declining beyond the point where they ceased to be significant functioning elements of the ecosystems of which they are a part.
What protections do marine mammals have in the United States?
The Marine Mammal Protection Act established a moratorium on the “take” of marine mammals in U.S. waters, the take of marine mammals by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals or marine mammal products into the United States. NOAA Fisheries authorizes and permits exceptions to the moratorium for take incidental to commercial fishing and other non-fishing activities (defined below); for scientific research; and for public display at licensed institutions such as aquaria and scientific institutions.
What is “Take”?
“Take” is defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and by regulation (50 CFR 216.3) as
to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any marine mammal. This includes, without limitation, any of the following:
- the collection of dead animals or parts thereof
- the restraint or detention of a marine mammal, no matter how temporary
- tagging a marine mammal
- the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel
- the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in disturbing or molesting a marine mammal
- feeding or attempting to feed a marine mammal in the wild
How does NOAA Fisheries monitor and reduce threats to marine mammals?
We monitor and reduce threats to marine mammals through research, permits and mitigation measures, regulatory actions, and partnerships, as well as educational and compliance assistance programs.
For example, fishery observers monitor the number of marine mammals accidentally caught in fishing gear. NOAA Fisheries works with the fishing industry and other partners to modify fishing gear or practices to minimize bycatch and its effect on marine mammals. Learn more about fisheries interactions and bycatch.
We also work to address other threats to marine mammals including:
How can I help protect marine mammals?
Here are a several ways you can help:
- Follow recommended wildlife viewing guidelines—for the animals’ safety and yours—by watching marine mammals from a distance and not attempting to feed or swim with them.
- Follow responsible boating and fishing practices to also help protect marine mammals and other protected species.
- Dispose of chemicals and waste responsibly to combat water pollution and marine debris.
- Make wise consumer choices, from the kinds of seafood you eat to the types of whale and dolphin watches you book.
- Report sick, injured, or dead animals and report violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
- Support or volunteer with your local marine mammal stranding network.
- Consider donating to the Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event contingency fund.
How are protections for marine mammals enforced?
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement encourages compliance with and enforces all of the marine statutes and regulations for which NOAA Fisheries is responsible, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act. We partner with numerous federal, state, territorial, and commonwealth marine conservation law enforcement agencies (e.g., U.S. Coast Guard and state marine patrols) through joint enforcement agreements. These agreements enhance enforcement of federal regulations while improving the ability of the partner agencies to perform their routine marine conservation obligations.
You can also help ensure compliance with marine mammal protections by reporting violations. The NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline ((800) 853-1964) provides live operator coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States to report a violation.
Compliance is also encouraged through education and outreach campaigns (e.g., Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins.org and compliance guides (e.g., Compliance Guide for Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction Rule).
How does NOAA work with other countries to protect marine mammals?
The United States continues to be a leader in promoting the conservation and management of marine mammals around the world. We work with international fisheries management organizations and other international bodies, such as the International Whaling Commission, in these efforts.
We also provide technical assistance to other countries in support of their marine mammal conservation efforts. These collaborative efforts include:
- Negotiation and implementation of international agreements to protect and conserve marine mammals.
- Sharing of scientific expertise through publications, international workshops, and participation in scientific committees of international research and management bodies.
- Providing funds and technical expertise to build marine mammal research, management, and stranding response capacity in developing nations.
- Direct support for cooperative marine mammal research in international and foreign waters.
In 2016, NOAA Fisheries finalized the marine mammal import rule, a regulation that aims to reduce marine mammal bycatch associated with international commercial fishing operations by requiring nations exporting fish and fish products to the United States to be held to the same standards as U.S. commercial fishing operations.