Marine mammals are animals that rely on the ocean for their survival. They vary widely in taxa, habitat, and behavior. Some are fully aquatic, such as manatees, while others depend on the sea primarily for feeding, like polar bears. Marine mammals play a vital role in maintaining the health and stability of marine ecosystems, particularly in the control of prey populations.
Unfortunately, many marine mammal populations are declining, largely due to habitat loss, boat strikes, and accidental by-catch.
Authority to manage marine mammals is divided between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). A third federal agency, the Marine Mammal Commission, was later established to review and make recommendations on the policies and actions of the Service and NMFS related to their implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Coordination among these agencies is a must in order to provide the best management practices for marine mammals.
We have the authority to implement the MMPA for the conservation and management of sea and marine otters, walrus, polar bear, three species of manatees, and dugong. Our regulations for implementation of the MMPA can be found at 50 CFR Part 18.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was enacted by Congress in response to increasing concerns among scientists and the public that significant declines in some species of marine mammals were caused by human activities. The law established a national policy to prevent marine mammal species and population stocks from declining beyond the point where they ceased to be significant functioning elements of the ecosystems of which they are a part.
The MMPA provides protection to marine mammal species by prohibiting: (1) the “take” (i.e., hunting, killing, capture, and/or harassment) of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and (2) the import, export, and sale of marine mammals and marine mammal parts and products in the United States.