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Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted on October 21, 1972.  It was written in order to protect all marine mammals, including spinner dolphins.  The MMPA prohibits take of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas.  It also prevents importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products in the U.S.  More specifically, this act prohibits people from harassing, feeding, hunting, capturing, collecting, or killing any marine mammal, or part of one, without a permit.  In addition, it formalized the marine mammal health and stranding response program to improve the response of stranding and unusual mortality instances.  The MMPA established the Marine Mammal Commission, with specific advisory and research duties to provide a form of oversight for the act.  It also mandated annual reports to Congress.

A few exceptions are present in the prohibition of take of marine mammals.  The MMPA exempts Indians, Aleut, and Eskimos from the moratorium on taking, provided that taking is conducted for subsistence or for the purpose of creating and selling authentic native articles of clothing and handicraft.  Also included are conditions under which permits may be issued to take marine mammals for public display and scientific research.

The MMPA was originally enacted because there was a danger of extinction or depletion of some marine mammals.  The species and stocks cannot be allowed to fall below their optimum sustainable population level (the level between the maximum rate of population increase and the population’s carrying capacity) and measures must be taken to replenish the populations.  The act was also enacted to address the issue of inadequate knowledge of the ecology and population dynamics of marine mammals, which are resources of great international significance.

The MMPA is managed by the federal government, more specifically the National Marine Fisheries Service (part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the Department of the Interior), and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (part of the Department of Agriculture).

For more information, see the references below:

Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.” <>

NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources. “Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972.” <>

The Marine Mammal Center. “Marine Mammal Protection Act.” <>

Photo Credit: MMPA, Office of Protected Resources,

  1972  /  Management  /  Last Updated August 29, 2012 by Heather Heenehan  /