The Marine Mammal Protection Act: A Regulatory Approach to Identifying and Minimizing Acoustic-Related Impacts on Marine Mammals

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Abstract

In 1972, the US Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), effectively giving the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) responsibility for conserving and managing all species of cetaceans and pinnipeds (except walrus). The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the “take” (to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill or attempt to do so) of marine mammals in US waters and by US citizens on the high seas. Since 1982, the MMPA has allowed for the incidental taking of marine mammals by US citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) provided an “incidental take authorization” (ITA) is issued under section 101(a)(5) of the MMPA. The NMFS’s Office of Protected Resources is responsible for issuing these authorizations. Most ITAs cover sound-generating activities, such as naval training (e.g., utilizing sonar or explosives), seismic surveys, or marine construction, because they have the potential to result in marine mammal harassment.