Marine Mammal Protection Act

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was the first act of the United States Congress to call specifically for an ecosystem approach to wildlife management. It was signed into law on October 21, 1972 by President Richard Nixon and took effect 60 days later on December 21, 1972. MMPA prohibits the "taking" of marine mammals, and enacts a moratorium on the import, export, and sale of any marine mammal, along with any marine mammal part or product within the United States. The Act defines "take" as "the act of hunting, killing, capture, and/or harassment of any marine mammal; or, the attempt at such." The MMPA defines harassment as "any act of pursuit, torment or annoyance which has the potential to either: a. injure a marine mammal in the wild, or b. disturb a marine mammal by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering." The MMPA provides for enforcement of its prohibitions, and for the issuance of regulations to implement its legislative goals.

Marine Mammal Protection Act
Great Seal of the United States (obverse)
Long titleAn Act to protect marine mammals; to establish a Marine Mammal Commission; and for other purposes.
Enacted bythe 92nd United States Congress
EffectiveDecember 21, 1972
Public law92-522
Statutes at Large86 Stat. 1027
Titles amended16 U.S.C.: Conservation
U.S.C. sections created16 U.S.C. ch. 31 §§ 1361–1362, 1371-1389, 1401-1407, 1411-1418, 1421-1421h, 1423-1423h
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H.R. 10420 by Edward Garmatz (DMD) on December 4, 1971
  • Committee consideration by House Merchant Marine and Fisheries
  • Passed the House on March 9, 1972 (362-10)
  • Passed the Senate on July 26, 1972 (88-2, in lieu of S. 2871)
  • Reported by the joint conference committee on August 1, 1972; agreed to by the House on October 10, 1972 (Agreed) and by the Senate on October 11, 1972 (Agreed)
  • Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on October 21, 1972
Amak Island, Steller's Sea Lion haul out
One species of marine mammal: the Steller sea lion - this haul rests on rocks located on Amak Island.

Marine mammal management

Authority to manage the MMPA was divided between the Secretary of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), and the Secretary of Commerce, which is delegated to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Subsequently, a third Federal agency, the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), was established to review existing policies and make recommendations to the Service and the NOAA better implement the MMPA. Coordination between these three Federal agencies is necessary in order to provide the best management practices for marine mammals.

Under the MMPA, the Service is responsible for ensuring the protection of sea otters and marine otters, walruses, polar bears, three species of manatees, and dugongs. NOAA was given responsibility to conserve and manage pinnipeds including seals and sea lions and cetaceans such as whales and dolphins.

Marine mammal permits and international coordination

The MMPA prohibits the take and exploitation of any marine mammal without appropriate authorization, which may only be given by the Service. Permits may be issued for scientific research, public display, and the importation/exportation of marine mammal parts and products upon determination by the Service that the issuance is consistent with the MMPA’s regulations. The two types of permits issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service's Office of Protected Resources are incidental and directed. Incidental permits, which allow for some unintentional taking of small numbers of marine mammal, are granted to U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity other than commercial fishing in a specified geographic area. Directed permits are required for any proposed marine mammal scientific research activity that involves taking marine mammals.

Applications for such permits are reviewed and issued the Service's Division of Management Authority, through the International Affairs office. This office also houses the Division of International Conservation, which is directly responsible for coordinating international activities for marine mammal species found in both U.S. and International waters, or are absent from U.S. waters. Marine mammal species inhabiting both U.S. and International waters include the West Indian manatee, sea otter, polar bear, and Pacific walrus. Species not present in U.S. waters include the West African and Amazonian manatee, dugong, Atlantic walrus, and marine otter.

Marine mammal conservation in the field

In efforts to conserve and manage marine mammal species, the Service has appointed field staff dedicated to working with partners to conduct population censuses, assess population health, develop and implement conservation plans, promulgate regulations, and create cooperative relationships internationally.

Various Marine Mammal Management offices are located on either coast. The Service's Marine Mammal Management office in Anchorage, Alaska is responsible for the management and conservation of polar bears, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters in Alaska. Northern sea otters present in Washington State are managed by the Western Washington Field Office, while southern sea otters residing in California are managed by the Ventura Field Office. West Indian manatee populations extend from Texas to Rhode Island, and are also present in the Caribbean Sea; however, this species is most prevalent near Florida (the Florida subspecies) and Puerto Rico (the Antillean subspecies). The Service’s Jacksonville Field Office manages the Florida manatee, while the Boqueron Field Office manages the Antillean manatee.

The polar bear, southern sea otter, marine otter, all three species of manatees, and the dugong are also concurrently listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).


Amendments enacted in 1981 established conditions for permits to be granted to take marine mammals "incidentally" in the course of commercial fishing. In addition, the amendments provided additional conditions and procedures for transferring management authority to the States, and authorized appropriations through FY 1984.

Policies created in 1982

  • Some marine mammal species or stocks may be in danger of extinction or depletion as a result of human activities.
  • These species or stocks must not be permitted to fall below their optimum sustainable population level (depleted)
  • Measures should be taken to replenish these species or stocks
  • There is inadequate knowledge of the ecology and population dynamics
  • Marine mammals have proven to be resources of great international significance.

The 1984 amendments established conditions to be satisfied as a basis for importing fish and fish products from nations engaged in harvesting yellowfin tuna with purse seines and other commercial fishing technology, as well as authorized appropriations for agency activities through FY 1988.

Amended in 1988

  • the establishment of conditions and procedures for the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior to review the status of populations to determine if they should be listed as "depleted" (below optimal, sustainable population numbers or listed as threatened or endangered);
  • the preparation of conservation plans for any species listed as depleted, including a requirement that such plans be modeled after recovery plans developed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act;
  • the listing of conditions under which permits may be issued to take marine mammals for the protection and welfare of the animals, including importation, public display, scientific research, and enhancing the survival or recovery of a species; and
  • a reward system under which the Secretary of the Treasury can pay up to $2500 to individuals providing information leading to convictions for violations of the Act.

Amended in 1995

  • Certain exceptions to the take prohibitions, such as for Alaska Native subsistence and permits and authorizations for scientific research;
  • A program to authorize and control the taking of marine mammals incidental to commercial fishing operations;
  • Preparation of stock assessments for all marine mammal stocks in waters under U.S. jurisdiction; and
  • Studies of pinniped-fishery interactions.


Congress found that: all species and population stocks of marine mammals are, or may be, in danger of extinction or depletion due to human activities; these mammals should not be permitted to diminish below their optimum sustainable population; measures should be taken immediately to replenish any of these mammals that have diminished below that level, and efforts should be made to protect essential habitats; there is inadequate knowledge of the ecology and population dynamics of these mammals; negotiations should be undertaken immediately to encourage international arrangements for research and conservation of these mammals. Congress declared that marine mammals are resources of great international significance (aesthetic, recreational and economic), and should be protected and encouraged to develop to the greatest extent feasible commensurate with sound policies of resource management. The primary management objective should be to maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem. The goal is to obtain an optimum sustainable population within the carrying capacity of the habitat.

See also


External links

1972 in the environment

This is a list of notable events relating to the environment in 1972. They relate to environmental law, conservation, environmentalism and environmental issues.

Bycatch reduction device

In the fishery business, a bycatch reduction device is a tool designed to minimize unintended capture (or bycatch) of marine animals, thus reducing the adverse effects of fishing on the ecosystem.

Dolphin drive hunting

Dolphin drive hunting, also called dolphin drive fishing, is a method of hunting dolphins and occasionally other small cetaceans by driving them together with boats and then usually into a bay or onto a beach. Their escape is prevented by closing off the route to the open sea or ocean with boats and nets. Dolphins are hunted this way in several places around the world, including the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, Peru, and Japan, the most well-known practitioner of this method. By numbers, dolphins are mostly hunted for their meat; some end up in dolphinariums.

Despite the controversial nature of the hunt resulting in international criticism, and the possible health risk that the often polluted meat causes, thousands of dolphins are caught in drive hunts each year.

Dolphin safe label

Dolphin-safe labels are used to denote compliance with laws or policies designed to minimize dolphin fatalities during fishing for tuna destined for canning.Some labels impose stricter requirements than others. Dolphin-safe tuna labeling originates in the United States. The term Dolphin Friendly is often used in Europe, and has the same meaning, although, in Latin America, the standards for Dolphin Safe/Dolphin Friendly tuna is different than elsewhere. The labels have become increasingly controversial since their introduction, particularly among sustainability groups in the U.S., but this stems from the fact that Dolphin Safe was never meant to be an indication of tuna sustainability. Many U.S. labels that carry dolphin safe label are amongst the least sustainable for oceans, according to Greenpeace's 2017 Shopping Guide.While the Dolphin Safe label and its standards have legal status in the United States under the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act, a part of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act, tuna companies around the world adhere to the standards on a voluntary basis, managed by the non-governmental organization Earth Island Institute, based in Berkeley, CA. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has promoted an alternative Dolphin Safe label, which requires 100% coverage by independent observers on boats and limits the overall mortality of dolphins in the ocean. This label is mostly used in Latin America.According to the U.S. Consumers Union, Earth Island and U.S. dolphin safe labels provide no guarantee that dolphins are not harmed during the fishing process because verification is neither universal nor independent. Still, tuna fishing boats and canneries operating under any of the various U.S. labeling standards are subject to surprise inspection and observation. For US import, companies face strict charges of fraud for any violation of the label standards, while Earth Island Institute (EII), an independent environmental organization, verifies the standards are met by more than 700 tuna companies outside the U.S through inspections of canneries, storage units, and audits of fishing logs. Earth Island Institute receives donations from the companies it verifies; and EII has never had an external scientific audit of its labeling program, a best practice for eco-labels. International observers are increasingly part of the Dolphin Safe verification process, being present on virtually purse seine tuna boats in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.


A dolphinarium is an aquarium for dolphins. The dolphins are usually kept in a large pool, though occasionally they may be kept in pens in the open sea, either for research or for public performances. Some dolphinariums consist of one pool where dolphins perform for the public, others are part of larger parks, such as marine mammal parks, zoos or theme parks, with other animals and attractions as well.

While cetaceans have been held in captivity since the 1860s, the first commercial dolphinarium was opened only in 1938. Their popularity increased rapidly until the 1960s. Since the 1970s, increasing concern for animal welfare led to stricter regulation, which in several countries ultimately resulted in the closure of some dolphinariums. Despite this trend, dolphinariums are still widespread in Europe, Japan and North America.

The most common species of dolphin kept in dolphinariums is the bottlenose dolphin, as it is relatively easy to train and has a long lifespan in captivity. While trade in dolphins is internationally regulated, other aspects of keeping dolphins in captivity, such as the minimum size and characteristics of pools, vary among countries. Though animal welfare is perceived to have improved significantly over the last few decades, many animal rights groups still consider keeping dolphins captive to be a form of animal abuse.

Great Greenland Furhouse

Great Greenland Furhouse is a modern tanning and production company that processes furs and sells clothing, fashion wear and other products made of Greenland fur and seal skin, located in Qaqortoq, south Greenland. The company operates based on a service contract between the Government of Greenland and Great Greenland A/S.

Hooded seal

The hooded seal (Cystophora cristata) is a large phocid found only in the central and western North Atlantic, ranging from Svalbard in the east to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in the west. The seals are typically silver-grey or white in colour, with black spots that vary in size covering most of the body. Hooded seal pups are known as "blue-backs" because their coats are blue-grey on the back with whitish bellies, though this coat is shed after 14 months of age when the pups molt.

Inter-Tribal Environmental Council

The Inter-Tribal Environmental Council (ITEC) was set up in 1992 to protect the health of Native Americans, their natural resources and environment. To accomplish this ITEC provides technical support, training and environmental services in a variety of disciplines. Currently, there are over forty ITEC member tribes in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. The ITEC is an example of the Native American Pan-Indian Organizations and Efforts.

The ITEC office has a full-time staff of twenty-two who organize and provide services to the individual ITEC member tribes. In addition, they assist individual tribes with other environmentally related issues and concerns as they arise.

The Cherokee Nation, as the leading agency in the ITEC, has been at the forefront in protecting natural resources, health, and the environment for the tribal community. Through their five stationary air-monitoring stations and one mobile air-monitoring station, the largest tribally owned and operated system of its kind in the United States, they provide quality environmental data to rural and tribal communities.ITEC has received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Kenneth S. Norris

Kenneth Stafford Norris or Kenneth S. Norris (August 11, 1924 – August 16, 1998) was a renowned marine mammal biologist, conservationist, and naturalist.

Norris did pioneering work on dolphin echolocation. His conservation work included helping establish the University of California Natural Reserve System and work towards passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Norris was a professor at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz.

List of United States federal environmental statutes

The laws listed below meet the following criteria: (1) they were passed by the United States Congress, and (2) pertain to (a) the regulation of the interaction of humans and the natural environment, or (b) the conservation and/or management of natural or historic resources. They need not be wholly codified in the United States Code.


MMPA is an acronym that may refer to:

Marine Mammal Protection Act

Copyright Term Extension Act (also known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act)

Matched molecular pair analysis (in Cheminformatics)

Manatee conservation

Manatees are large marine mammals that inhabit slow rivers, canals, saltwater bays, estuaries, and coastal areas. They are a migratory species, inhabiting the Florida waters during the winter and moving as far north as Virginia and as far west as Texas in the warmer summer months. Manatees are calm herbivores that spend most of their time eating, sleeping, and traveling. They have a lifespan of about 60 years with no known natural enemies. Some of their deaths are the result of human activity. In the past, manatees were exploited for their meat, fat, and hides.

National Marine Fisheries Service

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is the United States federal agency responsible for the stewardship of national marine resources. The agency conserves and manages fisheries to promote sustainability and prevent lost economic potential associated with overfishing, declining species, and degraded habitats.

Opposition to hunting

Opposition to hunting is espoused by people or groups who object to the practice of hunting, often seeking anti-hunting legislation and sometimes taking on acts of civil disobedience, such as hunt sabotage. Anti-hunting laws, such as the English Hunting Act 2004, are generally distinguishable from conservation legislation like the American Marine Mammal Protection Act by whether they seek to reduce or prevent hunting for perceived cruelty-related reasons or to regulate hunting for conservation, although the boundaries of distinction are sometimes blurred in specific laws, for example when endangered animals are hunted.

The term anti-hunting is used to describe opponents of hunting; while it does not appear to be pejorative, it is widely used as such by pro-hunting people.

Pantropical spotted dolphin

The pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata) is a species of dolphin found in all the world's temperate and tropical oceans. The species was beginning to come under threat due to the killing of millions of individuals in tuna purse seines. In the 1980s, the rise of "dolphin-friendly" tuna capture methods saved millions of the species in the eastern Pacific Ocean and it is now one of the most abundant dolphin species in the world.

Strawberry Lagoon

Strawberry Lagoon is an inlet within Richardson Bay, Marin County, California, United States. This location, particularly on Strawberry Spit, is a winter haul-out area for the Harbor seal. Pressures of urban development at Strawberry Point along with increases in small boat traffic have diminished the use of this lagoon for seal haul out, noted as early as 1990.

Tuna-Dolphin GATT Case (I and II)

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Tuna-Dolphin I and Tuna-Dolphin II disputes, were two cases involving United States embargoes on yellowfin tuna and yellowfin tuna products imported from Mexico and other countries, that use purse-seine fishing methods which have resulted in a high number of dolphin kills.


A whitecoat is a newborn harp or grey seal with soft, white fur.

William F. Perrin

William F. Perrin (born August 20, 1938) is a noted American biologist specializing in the fields of cetacean taxonomy, reproductive biology, and conservation biology. He is best known for his work documenting the unsustainable mortality of hundreds of thousands of dolphins per year in the tuna purse-seine fishery of the eastern tropical Pacific. This work became a primary motivation for the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972). His work on cetacean taxonomy was acknowledged in 2002 when a newly recognized species of beaked whale, Perrin's beaked whale (Mesoplodon perrini), was named in his honor (Dalebout 2002).

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