NOAA 2002-R109
Contact: Connie Barclay
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Seeks Comment on Need to Curtail Harassment by Humans

An agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charged with protecting marine mammals is considering developing regulations to provide more protection from human harassment that may harm species of whales, dolphins porpoises, seals and sea lions. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department.

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service managers want to gauge how to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act regulations or provide other measures to prevent harassment and harm to marine mammals in the wild caused by human interactions or inappropriate viewing activities. The agency will accept comments until April 1, 2002. This is the initial step in a process that seeks input from any member of the public who is concerned about interactions with marine mammals in the wild.

"We encourage people to view and enjoy marine mammals in their natural habitat, but in a responsible way. We're becoming increasingly concerned with the number of inappropriate activities and close interactions that may harm the animals and place people at risk," said NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator Bill Hogarth. "We're asking for the public's guidance in developing appropriate rules that better protect wild marine mammals, yet still promote responsible marine wildlife viewing on our waters and beaches."

NOAA Fisheries managers are concerned about the increasing number of people attempting to closely approach, swim with, touch or otherwise interact with wild marine mammals. NOAA Fisheries agents and managers have observed or received complaints about people chasing or swimming with wild dolphins and whales, using vessels to make dolphins ride the bow wave or surf the stern wake, throwing objects at seals or sea lions to make them ‘pose' for pictures, and attempting to pet, touch or feed the animals. These types of activities can disturb and injure marine mammals. Animals that are resting, foraging, caring for young, or using particular habitats for shelter are especially at risk for harassment by humans.

The MMPA currently provides general prohibitions against harassing or feeding wild marine mammals, and there are specific approach restrictions to humpback whales in Hawaii and Alaska, and North Atlantic right whales in the Northeast. This current proposal seeks to (1) clarify which activities can be disruptive to wild marine mammals, and (2) provide appropriate solutions for addressing human activities of concern.

Those wishing to comment on the rule should be aware of NOAA Fisheries' current policy regarding human interactions with marine mammals which states in part:

"The MMPA does not provide for a permit or other authorization process to view or interact with wild marine mammals, except for specific listed purposes such as scientific research. Therefore, interacting with wild marine mammals should not be attempted, and viewing marine mammals must be conducted in a manner that does not harass the animals. NOAA Fisheries cannot support, condone, approve or authorize activities that involve closely approaching, interacting or attempting to interact with whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals or sea lions in the wild. This includes attempting to swim with, pet, touch, feed or elicit a reaction from the animals. NOAA Fisheries believes that such interactions constitute a harassment as defined in the MMPA, since they involve acts of pursuit, torment or annoyance that have the potential to injure or disrupt the behavioral patterns of wild marine mammals."

The full text of this advance notice can be viewed at:

Comments should be addressed to the Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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