In Alaska, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) protects polar bears, Pacific walrus, and sea otters by prohibiting "take" of these animals. The MMPA provides for specific exceptions to the prohibition on taking, including a provision that allows U.S. citizens to take small numbers of marine mammals incidental to specified activities.
More specifically, Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA authorize the Secretary of the Interior to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals (including polar bears, Pacific walruses, and sea otters) by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region provided the total of such taking will have no more than a negligible impact on these marine mammal species and does not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species for subsistence uses. Two types of authorizations are available. Incidental Take Regulations (ITR) can be issued for up to five years; and if the taking is limited to harassment, an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) can be issued for up to one year.
Permissible methods of taking and other means of affecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings, are prescribed as part of the authorization process.
Where appropriate, ITRs and IHAs can provide considerable conservation and management benefits to potentially impacted marine mammals. Activities authorized under ITRs and IHAs must adopt measures to minimize any adverse impacts to marine mammals; their habitat, and their availability for Alaska Native subsistence use. ITRs and IHAs also specify monitoring and reporting requirements which provide a basis for evaluating potential impacts of current and future activities on marine mammals. Without incidental take authorizations, commercial activities could still continue; however, the Service would have no formal means of communicating with Industry or have the ability to require monitoring and mitigation of specific activities and any form of resulting “take” would be a violation of the MMPA.