The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners celebrate this year the 40th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), one of the nation’s most important conservation laws. The groundbreaking legislation, enacted on October 21, 1972, helps to conserve our nation’s marine mammals – including polar bears, sea otters, walruses, and manatees – as well as the ocean ecosystems that support them.
Under the MMPA’s protections, populations of formerly declining species such as the West Indian Manatee, California sea lion, Pacific harbor seal and elephant seal have steadily increased. The MMPA has also played a key role in helping to reduce conflicts between polar bears and humans in Alaska.
All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA, and some are also protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Service has joint jurisdiction for marine mammals under the MMPA with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries).
The protection of marine mammals and their ecosystems is especially important in the face of climate uncertainty and multiple threats to the marine environment. Additionally, conservation of these iconic species and their habitats helps support livelihoods, such as subsistence use, ecotourism, and fisheries, in many coastal communities.
The Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System plays an important role in protecting marine mammals. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protects vital polar bear denning areas; Hawaiian Islands and Midway Atoll refuges conserve breeding habitat for the critically-endangered Hawaiian monk seal; Crystal River refuge in Florida was established in 1983 specifically for the protection of the endangered West Indian manatee; and Monomoy refuge south of Cape Cod is the largest haul-out site of gray seals on the Atlantic seaboard with approximately 5,000 seals.
The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the “take” of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. It also prohibits possession, transport, export, or offer to purchase, sell, or export marine mammals or products created from them. In addition, the MMPA established the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent governmental entity charged with providing oversight of marine mammal conservation policies and programs being carried out by federal regulatory agencies.
The Service will celebrate the anniversary of the MMPA with educational awareness activities and events throughout this year. For more information visit http://www.fws.gov/FHC . Additional information including video links and fact sheets about the MMPA can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/mmpamediatoolkit.html