The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) is an independent agency of the U.S. government charged by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to further the conservation of marine mammals and their environment. The Commission works to ensure that marine mammal populations are restored and maintained as functioning elements of healthy marine ecosystems. It provides science-based oversight of domestic and international policies and actions of other U.S. federal agencies with regulatory authority for, or whose actions may affect marine mammals and their ecosystems. The Commission’s role is unique as it is the only U.S. government agency that provides comprehensive oversight of all science, policy, and management actions affecting marine mammals.
Marine Mammal Bycatch in the Indian Ocean – In September 2017, the Commission worked with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Secretariat, to devote part of that organization’s meeting to fisheries interactions involving marine mammals. As a result, an IOTC working group adopted a resolution that recommends, among other things, that the IOTC collaborate with the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and others to build capacity for marine mammal bycatch mitigation. As a follow-up action, the Commission provided funding to support the development and printing of a cetacean identification guide for the Indian Ocean.
Commissioner Dr. Michael Tillman and the IWC – Marine Mammal Commissioner Dr. Michael Tillman chairs the IWC Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Working Group. Most recently, in April 2018, he chaired the working group meeting at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska.
Marine Mammal Co-Management Review in Alaska – In 2017, the Marine Mammal Commission received a grant from the North Pacific Research Board to support a project to identify essential components of and impediments to effective co-management of marine mammals in Alaska. The Commission is working with Alaska Native partners, including the 8 Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, other federal agencies, and co-management stakeholders on the project. Focus group meetings and interviews were conducted in seven different Alaskan communities, including villages engaged in aboriginal subsistence whaling, in the summer of 2018.
Vaquita Conservation Efforts – The Commission continues to play a leading role in the international fight to save the most endangered marine mammal on earth, the vaquita, from extinction. The Commission actively participates in the International Recovery Team for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), the Consortium for Vaquita Conservation, Protection, and Rescue (Vaquita CPR), and in the IWC Scientific Committee’s Sub-committee on Small Cetaceans. The Commission has also supported efforts to develop "vaquita-friendly" fishing gear and economic alternatives to gillnet fisheries for the communities of the upper Gulf of California.
Small Grants Program – With a relatively modest budget, the Commission’s Grants and Research program fills a unique niche in marine mammal research funding, focused primarily on novel, low-cost projects. The Commission currently is supporting 23 active research grants, including five new projects for Fiscal Year 2018. Commission grants often target community-driven conservation approaches to eliminate, manage, or mitigate threats to marine mammals. Recent examples of grants involving cetaceans include: supporting the analysis of existing acoustic data to assess the occurrence and distribution of North Pacific right whales and an evaluation of the use of pingers to reduce bycatch of Franciscana dolphins in artisanal fisheries in Argentina.
Commission Annual Meetings in 2017 and 2018 – Each year, the Commission holds an annual meeting in different regions of the country to examine matters of local interest, as well as priority national and global issues. In 2017, the Commission held its annual meeting in Falmouth, Massachusetts, with a major review of obstacles to recovery of the North Atlantic right whales. In 2018, the Commission met in Seattle, Washington, to consider Pacific Northwest and Alaskan marine mammal science and management issues, including West Coast large whale entanglements, status of and threats to Southern Resident killer whales, and Cook Inlet beluga whales.
Critically Endangered North Atlantic Right Whale – In response to the loss of seventeen critically endangered North Atlantic right whales in 2017, the Commission heightened its attention on the need for additional actions to protect this species. Efforts by the Commission included (1) providing expertise and seed funding to advance new technologies to reduce bycatch, like the development of ‘ropeless’ fishing gear, (2) recommending supplementary federal conservation measures, and (3) participating as a member of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT).
Take Reduction Team Participation – The MMPA directs the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to prepare and implement take reduction plans for fisheries that frequently or occasionally kill or seriously injure marine mammals at levels high enough raise conservation concerns. NMFS uses Take Reduction Teams (TRTs) to recommend measures for inclusion in take reduction plans and to monitor their effectiveness. Commission 9 representatives participate on all TRTs, including those focused on reducing cetacean bycatch, such as the ALWTRT, the Pacific offshore cetacean TRT, and the Hawaiian false killer whale TRT.
The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) is an independent agency of the U.S. government charged by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to further the conservation of marine mammals and their environment.