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The Marine Mammal Protection Act

Law is responsible for conservation of our ocean's mammal populations

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Humpback whales are just one of the many marine mammals protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. NOAA

In 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed by the U.S. Congress to protect the many mammals who live in the world's oceans. This legislation is the basis for policies preventing the harassment, capture, injury, or killing of all species of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions, as well as walruses, manatees, dugongs, sea otters, and polar bears.

The law sets up a management regime to reduce marine mammal mortalities and injuries in their interactions with fisheries (gear entanglement, etc.); regulates scientific research in the wild; establishes basic requirements for public display of captive marine mammals; addresses issues specific to the tuna fishery in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean where dolphins associate with tuna and are harassed, injured, and sometimes killed by fishing practices there; creates a management regime for native subsistence hunting of marine mammals in Alaska; and regulates the import and export of marine mammals and their products.

The primary government agency responsible for enforcing the MMPA is the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), found in the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Under the MMPA, NMFS is responsible for the management and conservation of whales and dolphins (cetaceans) and pinnipeds other than the walrus. Walruses, manatees and dugongs (sirenians), sea otters, and polar bears are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in the Department of the Interior.

The MMPA underwent some significant changes in its 1994 amendments, especially with respect to switching the emphasis for pinnipeds from protection to management.

Click here to view the full text pdf of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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