Marine Mammal Stranding Database

Status Definitions

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The start of the environmental movement and concern over the depleted populations of marine mammals prompted the passing of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA; USC 16, Chapter 31) by Congress in 1972. Under this Act, all marine mammals are protected, and no "take" of marine mammals is allowed by U.S. citizens and in U.S. waters. This act also prohibits exportation, importation, and sale of marine mammals or marine mammal parts. "Take" in the Marine Mammal Protection Act is defined as attempted to or succeding "to hunt, harass, capture, or kill" any marine mammal. There are a few exceptions to this act that includes Alaska natives being allowed to hunt marine mammals for food and native crafts and allowing some incidental take in certain situations.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, within the Department of the Interior, manages polar bears, sea otters, walrus, and manatees.

MMPA Depleted

As defined by the MMPA, depleted refers to when a population or a species of marine mammal is below its optimum sustainable population or when they are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (see below).

Endangered Speies Act (ESA)

The classification of animals in terms of conservation status is based on federal and state law as well as on international treaties. The conservation status of many animals, or of smaller populations of a species, are reported on lists which indicate whether they need special management attention for their continued survival. When an animal is included in such a group, it is said to be "listed". Animals may be listed for a number of reasons including loss of habitat, reduced habitat quality, overfishing, and population fragmentation to name a few. Once a species is federally listed, it is illegal to have in your possession any part of such an animal, living or dead, without special permission. It is also illegal to harm/harass the species or disturb habitat where they species occur.

An animal is considered to be Endangered if it is likely to become extinct throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Endangered Species are protected by both state and federal laws.

A Threatened species is one that is likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of it range within the foreseeable future unless significant changes occur. Some of these species may still appear to be common but generally are experiencing threats that may require the need for the additional protection this status provides.

Some species are of Special Concern because they are particularly susceptible to over-exploitation or environmental change. These species are listed under this classification when a population or a species may be in need of monitoring to assess threats to their existence. If warranted, a species could be proposed for up-listing to a Threatened or Endangered classification.

A Rare species is one which is found only within a restricted geographical area and therefore is at risk if that habitat is threatened. Other Rare species are sparsely distributed over a wide range and may be at risk simply because there are so few of them.