NOAA – October 21, 2022 marked 50 years of the landmark Marine Mammal Protection Act. The anniversary is a time to reflect on the science and conservation successes of the past 50 years, while looking towards the next 50 years and beyond. Marine mammals can be important barometers of the health of our coastal communities and oceans. They inform our understanding of how threats in the ocean environment may impact human health and welfare.
Fifty years ago, the American public responded to the threats faced by marine mammals and their habitats by calling for protective legislation:
- Marine mammal populations had been decimated globally by commercial whaling and sealing
- Dolphins were dying by the hundreds of thousands in the tropical Pacific tuna fishery
- Bounty programs were in place for seals and sea lions
Many species faced a myriad of other threats.
Against this backdrop, Congress passed a monumental, landmark piece of wildlife conservation legislation that protects all marine mammals: the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Signed into law on October 21, 1972, it was the first legislation worldwide to take an ecosystem-level approach to maintaining sustainable populations, recovering endangered and threatened species, and conserving marine mammals so they could thrive in their natural habitats. From ringed seals in the Arctic, to humpback whales in the tropics, and seals along our coasts, all marine mammals in U.S. waters are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.