Public Display Permit for Marine Mammals

A public display permit is for the capture of marine mammals in U.S. waters or importation of marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


Marine Mammal Protection Act
Permit Type
Public Display
Estimated Processing Time
6-12 months, depending on your activities
Download Application


You need a public display permit if you want to:

  • Capture marine mammals from the wild
  • Import marine mammals (See below for export information)

A public display permit is not required to maintain marine mammals in public display facilities, such as zoos and aquariums. 

Public display permits are not available for species listed as depleted under the MMPA or threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Do I need a scientific research permit for research on public display animals?

  • No, if you are doing non-intrusive research
  • Yes, if you are conducting intrusive research

Note: For captive animals, intrusive research includes activities that, in the reasonable judgment of the attending veterinarian, would constitute a risk to the health or welfare of the captive animal.

Do I need a permit to export marine mammals for public display in other countries?

No, you do not need a permit to export marine mammals for public display purposes.  However, the receiving facility must demonstrate that they meet comparable standards.  Please note that species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or depleted under the MMPA may not be exported. 

Comparable standards means standards that are similar to those that a facility in the U.S. must meet, which include:

  • Offering an education or conservation program based on standards of the U.S. public display community
  • Obtaining a letter from the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) indicating that the facility meets standards comparable to Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations
  • Maintaining facilities that are open to the public on a regular basis

In addition, the appropriate agency of the foreign government (e.g., the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) management authority of the government) must submit a statement to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources certifying that:

  1. The information in the application is accurate;
  2. The laws and regulations of the foreign government involved allow enforcement of  the terms and conditions of the authorization, and that the foreign government will enforce all terms and conditions; and 
  3. The foreign government involved will afford comity to any authorization, amendment, modification, suspension, or revocation decision issued by NOAA Fisheries. 



You need to provide:

  1. Documentation on the origin of the animals (importation) or a description of the population from which you are requesting to collect animals from the wild.
  2. A transport plan (importation) or capture plan including the qualifications of the team lead and attending veterinarian.
  3. Documentation that your facility meets the MMPA criteria to hold marine mammals for public display.

How to apply

You should apply:

  • To import marine mammals – at least 6 months in advance of import
  • To capture marine mammals from the wild – at least 12 months in advance of planned captures

Note: The last request for a collection permit was received in 1988. An application for collection may be considered controversial and the appropriateness of an Environmental Impact Statement under NEPA will need to be considered.

You must submit an application following the Marine Mammal Public Display Permit Application [24 pages, pdf].  A Word version of the application instructions is also available. The application can be submitted by mail:

Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries
1315 East-West Highway, Suite 13705
Silver Spring, MD 20910

You must include one signed original and one electronic copy (call our office at 301-427-8401 for an email contact).

What Happens After You Submit

You can expect your application to be processed within 4-6 months.

Permit Processing

  1. After you submit your application, two permit analysts will be assigned to review the application.
  2. Following the initial review, you may be asked for additional information. You should address any questions on the application within 60 days or your application will be considered abandoned and withdrawn.
  3. Once the application is determined to be complete, we will publish a notice in the Federal Register, which starts a mandatory 30-day public comment period. We will also send your application to subject matter experts (e.g., partner institutions, federal agencies, and state organizations) for review.  Public display applications will be sent to the Marine Mammal Commission and to the USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for their review and comment.
  4. You may be asked to address any questions received during the comment period.
  5. A final decision on your application will be made by the Office Director. 

You can check on the status of your application by contacting your permit analyst.


If your permit is issued

You will need to sign your permit and return a copy of the signature page to us.

Regional Notification:  if you will be collecting animals from the wild, you will be required to notify the applicable NOAA Fisheries Regional Office(s) prior to starting your activities each year or season.

Reporting:  you will be required to submit an updated marine mammal data sheet for each animal within 30 days of import or capture.

Changes to your permit:  you can request change to your permit once it has been issued.  Minor changes are simple and can be done quickly (e.g., personnel changes).  Changes such as adding animals or species are more involved and will require a 30-day public comment period and take 4-6 months to process.

More Information

  • USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has jurisdiction over animal care and maintenance for all marine mammals held for public display purposes under the Animal Welfare Act. Applications for public display permits are forwarded to APHIS for review concurrently with the public comment period.
  • Marine Mammal Commission: The MMC was established under the MMPA to provide independent oversight of the marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies. Applications for public display permits are forwarded to the MMC for review concurrently with the public comment period.
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a multinational agreement to prevent species from becoming endangered or extinct because of international trade. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Division of Management Authority is responsible for implementing CITES in the U.S. Import and export of species listed under this agreement will require CITES permits

Need Help?

Permits and Conservation Division

Office of Protected Resources
Phone: 301-427-8401
Fax: 301-713-0376

Last updated by Office of Protected Resources on 07/25/2018