The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), enacted in 1972, was the first legislation that called for an ecosystem approach to natural resource management and conservation. The MMPA prohibits the take (i.e., hunting, killing, capture, and /or harassment) of marine mammals, and enacts a moratorium on the import, export, and sale of marine mammal parts and products. There are exemptions and exceptions to the prohibitions. For example, Alaska Natives may hunt marine mammals for subsistence purposes, and may possess, transport, and sell marine mammal parts and products. An exception is available for entities that apply for and are granted authorization for the incidental take of marine mammals during the course of an otherwise legal activity.
Marine Mammal Management
Authority to manage marine mammals was divided between the Department of the Interior (delegated to the Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Department of Commerce (delegated to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). A third Federal agency, the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), was later established to review and make recommendations on the policies and actions of the Service and NOAA related to their implementation of the MMPA. Coordination among these agencies is a must in order to provide the best management practices for marine mammals.
The Service was given authority to implement the MMPA for the conservation and management of sea and marine otters, walrus, polar bear, 3 species of manatees, and dugong. The Service's regulations for implementation of the MMPA can be found at 50 CFR Part 18. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-Fisheries) was given the responsibility to conserve and manage pinnepeds other than walrus (i.e., seals and sea lions) and cetaceans (whales and dolphins).
The Washington Office Marine Mammal Program coordinates the Service's implementation of the MMPA internally and externally with our partners. The Program responsibilities include clearing regulations for publication, publishing Annual Reports (1997, 1999-2000) to Congress and the public on the Service's activities, developing and advocating for policies and legislative positions, and communicating with partner agencies and stakeholders.
Marine Mammal Permits and International Coordination
The MMPA prohibits the take and importation of any marine mammal without appropriate authorization. Permits may be issued for scientific research, public display, and import/export of marine mammal parts and products upon determination by the Service that the issuance is consistent with the MMPA and our regulations. Application for these permits are reviewed and issued by the Service's Division of Management Authority, which is part of the International Affairs office. This office also houses the Division of International Conservation, which is responsible for coordinating international activities for those marine mammal species that are found in either the United States and International waters or are not found in U.S. waters at all. Species with ranges that traverse U.S. and international waters include the West Indian manatee, sea otter, polar bear, and Pacific walrus. Marine mammal species not found in U.S. waters include the West African and Amazonian manatee, dugong, Atlantic walrus, and marine otter.
Marine Mammal Conservation in the Field
In our efforts to conserve and manage our marine mammal species, the Service has field staff dedicated to working with our partners to conduct population censuses, assess population health, develop and implement conservation plans, promulgate regulations, and create cooperative relationships.
The Service's Marine Mammal Management office in Anchorage, Alaska, has the responsibility to manage and conserve polar bears, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters in Alaska. Northern sea otters are also found in Washington State and are managed by the Western Washington Field Office. Southern sea otters, which reside in California, are managed by the Ventura Field Office. The West Indian manatee can be found from Texas to Rhode Island and into the Caribbean Sea; however, the species mostly occur in Florida (the Florida subspecies) and Puerto Rico (the Antillean subspecies). The Service's Jacksonville Field Office manages the Florida manatee and the Boqueron Field Office manages the Antillean manatee.
Currently, the polar bear, southern sea otter, marine otter, all three species of manatees, and the dugong are also listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). You can link to the Service's Endangered Species Program for more information about the ESA.