Credit: James Watt/USFWS

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted on October 21, 1972. All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA. The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the "take" of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S.

Jurisdiction for MMPA is shared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The Service’s Branch of Permits is responsible for issuing take permits when exceptions are made to MMPA.

In general, exceptions may be made for:

  1. Pre-MMPA specimens taken before December 21, 1972
  2. International Agreements entered into by the United States before December 21, 1972
  3. Alaska natives
  4. Scientific research, public display, enhancing the survival or recovery of a species, and incidental take in commercial fisheries
  5. Waivers granted by the U.S. Government


All cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), all sirenians (manatees and dugongs) and several marine carnivores (seals, otters, walrus, and polar bears) are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES applies to international shipments of listed species. It does not apply to activities conducted solely within the United States. The Service issues CITES permits for all marine mammals protected by CITES. For permitting information for marine mammals, visit our Permits page.

For more information on MMPA, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).