To obtain an incidental take authorization (ITA; either incidental take regulations (ITRs) or an incidental harassment authorization (IHA)) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, applicants must submit a written request to the Service containing information specified in the Code of Federal Regulations (50 CFR §18.27(d)), which is described below. Note this information is very similar, but not identical, to the information required by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for its marine mammal incidental take requests.
We strongly encourage applicants to reach out to the Marine Mammals Management (MMM) Regulatory Program (R7mmmregulatory@fws.gov, 1-800-362-5148) prior to developing an application to discuss an authorization timeline, any data needs, or other considerations that may impact your application. Communicating early and often is key to a successful application.
Complete applications should be submitted to the Marine Mammals Management Regulatory Program by email to R7mmmregulatory@fws.gov.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is take and harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act?
The Marine Mammal Protection Act includes specific definitions for take and for harassment, which includes both "Level A" and "Level B" harassment. Take is further defined under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations (50 C.F.R. 18.3).
Take means to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any marine mammal, including, 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; or the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel, or the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in the disturbing or molesting of a marine mammal.
Level A harassment means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild.
Level B harassment refers to acts that have the potential to disturb (but not injure) a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by disrupting behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
How do I know if I need to apply for an incidental take authorization?
It is illegal to take marine mammals in the course of activities, even if you tried to prevent take but it still happens accidentally. Therefore, it is a good idea to apply for an incidental take authorization (ITA) from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if you are conducting activities likely to result in any incidental take of the marine mammals that the Service manages. In Alaska, these are sea otters, polar bears, and Pacific walruses. Projects in these species’ ranges that produce high levels of noise (e.g. pile driving, seismic surveys) or that involve large-scale or extended operations generally have the potential to cause take, and an incidental take authorization may provide you necessary legal coverage. If you are not sure whether you need an incidental take authorization for your project, please reach out by email to the Marine Mammals Management Regulatory Program (R7mmmregulatory@fws.gov). Staff can provide information on the likelihood of your activities causing incidental take. They can also recommend measures that will lower the risk of take whether or not you decide to apply for an authorization.
Are marine mammals in my proposed project area?
Use the Fish and Wildlife Service Information for Planning and Consulting ( ) tool. It allows you to define your project area on a map (by drawing its footprint or uploading a shape file) and then outputs protected resources that can occur in the area. One of the tabs under the Resources output is Marine Mammals. If any marine mammals managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service occur in your project area, they will be listed here. *Note the Pacific walrus range map is temporarily missing from the IPaC tool—please refer to its general species range map in the Pacific Walrus Species Status Assessment.
How long to process my Incidental Take Authorization?
It depends on the complexity and scale of proposed activities. We generally recommend submitting a complete application at least six months before an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) is needed and at least 12 months before Incidental Take Regulations (ITRs) are needed. It may take up to 18 months from your initial communication to the promulgation of final incidental take regulations (ITRs). The process for issuance of an incidental harassment authorization (IHA) may take 12 months. Processing time will vary depending on the nature of the proposed activities, so we encourage communication well in advance of the start of proposed activities.
Application Requirements (IHA and ITRs)
A complete application describes in detail the proposed activities; anticipated impacts on marine mammals (under Service jurisdiction), their habitat, and their availability for subsistence uses; and mitigation, monitoring, and reporting plans. Past applications that resulted in issued authorizations may be helpful examples and can be requested from the MMM Regulatory Program by email. We recommend structuring your application for an IHA or ITRs with separate sections for each of the 11 written request components required by Service regulations:
1. Activity description—A description of the specific activity or class of activities that can be expected to result in incidental taking of marine mammals.
All proposed activities for the entire effective period of the authorization should be described in detail. Descriptions should include all types of equipment to be used, including aircraft and vessels, and how they will be operated and interact with the environment. Diagrams and tables are often helpful. Please include daily operation schedules in this section. Applicants may also choose to include additional activity timing and location details in this section rather than the following section.
Here is information that is typically required for specific activities:
- In-water or shoreline construction - whether there will be pile driving, and if so, the type, size, and total numbers of piles to be driven using vibratory or impact methods; any sound attenuation methods to be used; sound source levels for equipment from field measurements and/or manufacturer specifications.
- Marine vessel transit - vessel length and type; transit speeds and track lines
- Marine seismic/geophysical surveys - acoustic source frequency, sound level, directionality, and daily usage; track lines
- Aircraft operations - aircraft model; flight paths; flights per day
- Tundra travel - Travel dates and routes
- Land seismic/geophysical surveys - subblock entry and exit dates (for both advanced and full crew)
- Onshore drilling operations - percentage of total time that each area (e.g., well pad, camp, mine site, road) is occupied by humans during each month or season. Applicable seasons are open water season, 19 July – 10 November, and ice season, 11 November – 18 July.
2. Timing and location details—The dates and duration of such activity and the specific geographical region where it will occur.
Applications should specify where and when activities will occur in as much detail as possible. If this information is provided in the description of activities, a brief summary of timing and location in this section is sufficient. Please note that any information provided in the application will be made available to the public. Applications must include:
Dates (start and end) for each proposed activity. Please be as specific as possible. If timing of activities depends on certain factors, explain those factors fully. Describe activity durations and frequencies.
Locations of activities. Please include a detailed map in the application and provide the Service with a GIS data file (i.e., shapefile) showing activity footprints, including any transit routes.
3. Take estimates—An estimate of the species and numbers of marine mammals likely to be taken, by age, sex, and reproductive conditions, and the type of taking (e.g., disturbance by sound, injury or death resulting from collision, etc.) and the number of times such taking is likely to occur.
In this section, describe the total number of marine mammal takes that are anticipated to occur during proposed activities. Include the total numbers of anticipated takes by Level B harassment, by Level A harassment, and by lethal take. If any Level A harassment is anticipated to amount to serious injury (i.e., injury with a 50% or greater chance of causing mortality), state how many “serious” Level A takes are expected to occur.
Applications should include a thorough narrative of how take estimates were generated, including all assumptions applied.
We encourage applicants to follow the Service’s methodologies to estimate total take. These generally consist of applying scientifically established take exposure thresholds (e.g., levels of noise or activity proximity thresholds that have been shown to potentially disturb or harm polar bears, sea otters, or walruses). The total area and duration of exposures above take thresholds from activities is determined, and the number of takes expected to occur is calculated based on the density of marine mammals in the exposure area and the proportion of exposures that will result in take based on animal responses.
Take estimates should account for any planned mitigation. For example, if trained observers will monitor for marine mammals and activities will not start or will cease if animals are within a certain proximity, this should be factored into the estimation of take.
The MMM Regulatory Program can provide technical assistance on the generation of take estimates. We encourage applicants to review recent Federal Register notices for similar authorizations (refer to the ITRs list page and the IHA list page), which include thorough descriptions of the Service’s take estimation methods.
4. Species or stocks description—A description of the status, distribution, and seasonal distribution (when applicable) of the affected species or stocks likely to be affected by such activities.
Descriptions of the affected stock(s) should provide information on abundance and distribution, recent population trend, and factors affecting this trajectory. Also, describe life history, including behavioral patterns (e.g. reproduction, feeding, migrating, and hauling out) and physiological traits (e.g. hearing range, metabolic demands) that may influence how activities could affect animals. Please identify any areas or times that animals are particularly sensitive to potential impacts from activities.
Our program issues authorizations for the marine mammal stocks listed below, and the linked Service reports contain stock-specific information that may be helpful. We recommend reviewing relevant recent authorizations (IHA list page; ITRs list page) for additional sources of information on these stocks.
Southern Beaufort Sea
Northern sea otters
Single range-wide stock
1Stock = Population unit that is recognized and managed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
2SAR = Stock Assessment Report; SSA = Species Status Assessment
5. Anticipated impact on marine mammals—The anticipated impact of the activity upon the species or stocks.
In this section, provide a description of how proposed activities are likely to impact marine mammals. Include what biological consequences activities and incidental take may have on animal behavior, distribution, physiology, health, and the population as a whole. This section may be combined with the take estimate section as long as it is clear where this information is provided. Make sure the application includes whether any serious injury or mortality is anticipated and how severe the impacts from harassment are likely to be, given the type of harassment, time of occurrence, any cumulative stressors, and the potential for repeated exposures.
6. Anticipated impact on subsistence use of marine mammals—The anticipated impact of the activity on the availability of the species or stocks for subsistence uses.
Authorizations may be issued only if incidental take does not have an “unmitigable adverse impact” on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. Activities may have such an impact if they cause marine mammals to abandon or avoid hunting areas, directly displace subsistence users, or place physical barriers between the marine mammals and the subsistence hunters. This section should describe whether activities could have any of these effects and the specific communities and hunts that may be impacted. Applicants should consult with subsistence communities, and the Service can provide appropriate contacts, if needed. In some cases, the Service may require applicants to develop a formal Plan of Cooperation (POC), which includes:
A statement that the applicant has notified and provided the affected subsistence community with a draft POC;
A schedule for meeting with the affected subsistence communities to discuss proposed activities and to resolve any potential conflicts;
A description of the measures the applicant has taken and/or will take to ensure that proposed activities will not interfere with subsistence hunting; and
7. Anticipated impact on habitat—The anticipated impact of the activity upon the habitat of the marine mammal populations and the likelihood of restoration of the affected habitat.
Applications should describe how activities may impact marine mammal habitat, including both physical and biological features. Examples of anticipated impacts to habitat include increases in background noise levels, displacement of prey, release of contaminants, and preventing use of an area (e.g., for foraging, resting, or denning). Please explain any effects of activities that could cause marine mammals to avoid the area of impact, either temporarily or permanently. Applications should address -related impacts of activities, if applicable. For authorizations affecting polar bears, it is helpful for applications to specifically address impacts to foraging habitat, denning habitat, and barrier island habitat.
8. Anticipated impacts of habitat loss or modification on species—The anticipated impact of the loss or modification of the habitat on the marine mammal population involved.
This section should explain how the impacts of activities on habitat may affect marine mammal populations, e.g. by impacting animal behavior, energetics, health, exposure to threats, or vital rates.
9. Mitigation measures—The availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting such activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks, their habitat, and, where relevant, on their availability for subsistence uses, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance. (The applicant and those conducting the specified activity and the affected subsistence users are encouraged to develop mutually agreeable mitigating measures that will meet the needs of subsistence users.)
This section should describe in detail all mitigation measures planned to avoid, significantly reduce, or control potentially harmful impacts of activities on marine mammals. Potential mitigation measures include spatial and temporal restrictions on activities; monitoring by trained protected species observers and implementation of appropriate standoff distances, exclusion zones, and power-down or shutdown zones; conducting marine mammal surveys (e.g., for polar bear dens, walrus haulouts, or large concentrations of sea otters) prior to activities to avoid sensitive areas; development of specific marine mammal interaction plans; and use of sound-attenuation devices. Please describe when and how specific mitigation measures will be applied, and include a discussion of any measures that were considered but are not proposed because they are not feasible.
10. Monitoring and reporting—Suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting, which will result in increased knowledge of the species through an analysis of the level of taking or impacts, and suggested means of minimizing burdens by coordinating such reporting requirements with other schemes already applicable to persons conducting such activity.
Explain how monitoring for marine mammals will be completed before, during, and after activities. Specify what data will be collected and who will collect the data. The Service can provide sighting forms that specify relevant data to be collected (e.g., location, direction of travel, behavior, number of animals). We strongly recommend using the Service sighting form to standardize data collected. Describe how marine mammal sightings will be reported to the Service, including chains of communication and reporting schedules (i.e., frequency and timing). Note that letters of authorization (LOAs) and IHAs generally require annual or after-action reports on activities and monitoring and mitigation results. Marine mammal reports should be submitted to email@example.com.
In addition to developing a specific marine mammal monitoring plan, applicants should consider what additional impact monitoring may be completed during activities that can benefit future analyses. For example, please consider whether it is practicable to monitor sound levels produced by equipment, or the magnitude of other potential impacts that could affect marine mammals.
Information gained from marine mammal monitoring and reporting will serve several purposes:
Ensure compliance with permissible methods of take and mitigation;
Ensure activities and effects are in line with the incidental take authorization’s analysis to ensure the findings remain valid; and
Identify limits to the effectiveness or practicability of mitigation and improve procedures for future requests.
11. Research coordination—Suggested means of learning of, encouraging, and coordinating research opportunities, plans, and activities relating to reducing such incidental taking from such specified activities, and evaluating the effects of incidental take.
This section should list the entities the applicant will coordinate with while planning and completing activities and associated monitoring, e.g., Federal and State agencies, local and Tribal government and organizations, and other groups. Please briefly explain how the coordination will be achieved and whether the proposed activities are expected to contribute to cooperative research or conservation efforts related to marine mammals and reduction of adverse impacts.
Additional requirements – National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act
Before issuing an incidental take authorization, the Service must complete an appropriate analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for this major Federal action. If any NEPA analysis has been performed for proposed actions in an incidental take authorization application, that analysis (e.g., a draft or final Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement) must be submitted to the Service with the application for review.
For proposed activities that may result in incidental take of a marine mammal that is also listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (e.g., polar bears or northern sea otters from the Southwest Alaska stock), compliance with both the ESA and MMPA is required. The Service will initiate an intra-agency ESA Consultation prior to issuing an incidental take authorization.
Paperwork Reduction Act:
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has approved, under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), the information collection requirements associated with incidental take of marine mammals and assigned OMB control number 1018-0070 (expires January 31, 2024) for incidental take regulations and OMB control number 1018-0194 (expires August 31, 2026) for incidental harassment authorizations. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number.
Applications and other information submitted by applicants are available for review, subject to the requirements of the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. 552a) and Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552).