Law Protecting Marine Mammals Turns 45, Congress To Kill It

How do you celebrate the 45th anniversary of the nation’s flagship law that has served as a bedrock for marine mammal protection and conservation?

If you are NRDC and other groups, you celebrate its successes—the countless thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, walruses, sea otters, polar bears, and manatees already saved by this bedrock legislation, and the legal protections it continues to provide to millions of marine mammals as the oceans are increasingly industrialized. 

If you are a Republican on the House Committee on Natural Resources, you promote a bill that would eviscerate it—and the protections it provides for marine mammals from the oil and gas industry.  

This is why NRDC, Oceana, IFAW, AWI and other groups—along with dozens of scientists and business owners—are on Capitol Hill today urging members of Congress to defend, not demolish, the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act—bipartisan legislation enacted by Congress and signed by President Nixon 45 years ago—recognizes that human activities were threatening marine mammals at alarming rates. It was enacted following public outrage over the hundreds of thousands of dolphins killed in pursuit of tuna and the slaughter of baby seals for their fur. 

Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted 45 years ago, no species of marine mammals has gone extinct in U.S. waters. And it protects a lot of marine mammals—125 marine mammal species worldwide are managed under the MMPA.

The status of many marine mammal populations is considerably better today than it was in 1972. For instance, the abundance of California sea lions, harbor and gray seals, and humpback, blue, and gray whales, have greatly increased in the past 45 years.

Marine mammals are also doing better in U.S. waters than elsewhere in the world. For example, U.S. species generally fare better than non-U.S. species listed on the International Union of Concerned Scientists (IUCN) “red list”—meaning fewer U.S. species are found in high-risk categories (vulnerable, critically endangered, near threatened, extinct) and more U.S. species are considered of least concern.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act has protected countless whales, dolphins and other marine mammals for the last 45 years. It now needs our protection from special interests in Congress, who want to gut the Act to make it easier for the oil and gas industry to deploy ear-shattering and marine life-threatening seismic airguns.

But Congress does not have the public support to sacrifice marine mammals on the altar of Big Oil.

In a recent poll, 76 percent of Americans said they want to protect marine mammals from threats, including from offshore oil and gas exploration, and 73 percent said they support the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

After 45 years of success, now is not the time to abandon the Marine Mammal Protection Act. While some species are rebounding, others—like North Atlantic right whales, Cook Inlet beluga whales, Southern Resident killer whales, and Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whales—remain critically endangered.

As the oceans industrialize, these species need protection now more than ever. Which is why we must stop the attack on the Marine Mammal Protection Act before it’s too late.

Please demand that your representatives strongly oppose any legislation that guts the Marine Mammal Protection Act. You can sign our petition here; and you can go here to find the office number of your Congressional representative and give them a call. 

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Deputy Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Nature Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.