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The Marine Mammal Protection Act plays a critical role in the survival of marine mammals and the health of our ocean ecosystem. Our ocean is in trouble and marine mammals are facing new threats ranging from warming ocean temperatures to ocean trash and plastic pollution to depletion of fish stocks – just to name a few. The Marine Mammal Protection Act helps protect our most vulnerable creatures and The Marine Mammal Center works to ensure their survival.

All marine mammals are protected in the United States by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which makes it illegal to harass, feed, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. The Marine Mammal Center has special permits from the federal government that allow us to respond to stranded marine mammals.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed in 1972 to maintain the health and stability of the marine ecosystem. Marine mammals were in danger of diminishing, some to the point of extinction, as a result of human activities like hunting and fishing. The MMPA protects all marine mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), sea otters and polar bears within the waters of the United States.

The MMPA makes it illegal to "take" marine mammals without a permit. This means people may not harass, feed, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. It also established the Marine Mammal Commission and formalized the marine mammal health and stranding response program to improve responses to strandings and unusual mortality events.

The MMPA was amended in 1994 to require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use science-based research to assess marine mammal populations. These reports help estimate deaths due to human activity, recover depleted populations and increase our understanding of marine mammal biology and ecology.

The MMPA is managed by the federal government. The National Marine Fisheries Service, part of NOAA within the Department of Commerce, is responsible for managing cetaceans, otariids (eared seals, or sea lions) and phocids (true seals). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior, is responsible for managing odobenids (walruses), sirenians, sea otters and polar bears. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, part of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), is responsible for regulations managing the facilities that house marine mammals in captivity.