The Law

Our marine mammals are protected by laws that are both local and Federal. The most general of these laws is the Federal Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA). The MMPA goes so far as to make it illegal to harass marine mammals. Since these animals fear humans, just walking up to a marine mammal is considered harassment and is therefore illegal.

Some of our local marine marine mammals, such as Steller Sea Lions, enjoy additional protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Marine Mammal Protection Act

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 was enacted in response to increasing concerns among scientists and the public that significant declines in some species of marine mammals were caused by human activities. The act established a national policy to prevent marine mammal species and population stocks from declining beyond the point where they ceased to be significant functioning elements of the ecosystems of which they are a part.  Nowhere else in the world had a government made the conservation of healthy and stable ecosystems as important as the conservation of individual species.

The Department of Commerce through the National Marine Fisheries Service is charged with protecting whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions.  Walrus, manatees, otters, and polarbears are protected by the Department of the Interior through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Endangered Species Act

Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on December 38, 1973, recognizing that the natural heritage of the United States was of “esthitic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our nation and its people.” It was understood that, without protection, many of our nation’s living resources would become extinct.

The purpose of the ESA is to conserve threatened and endangered species and their ecosystems. There are more than 1,900 species listed under the ESA. A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A species is considered threatened if it is likely to become endangered in the future.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) share responsibility for implementing the ESA.

The listing of a species as endangered makes it illegal to “take” (harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to do these things) that species. Similar prohibitions usually extend to threatened species.

**Much of the information on this page was copied from NOAA websites.**