MMC Newsletter  •  Summer 2017
Six Species
For  about 1 penny per American per year, the Marine Mammal Commission has met its Congressional mandate to conserve marine mammals for over 40 years. 

We work to ensure that marine mammal populations are restored and maintained as functioning elements of healthy marine ecosystems in the world's oceans.
Thank you for your continued support!

We are committed to our mission under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and continue to work tirelessly on the responsible management of our shared marine resources. The Commission appreciates the support received for the work that we have carried out over the past four decades. See our Chairman’s message for more details. 

Vaquita Conservation Efforts Intensify

Given the fall 2016 population estimate of 30 individuals, the recent deaths of six vaquitas since early 2017, and rampant illegal fishing for totoaba in the Gulf of California, Mexico, the International Recovery Team for Vaquita (CIRVA-9) concluded in April that the only hope for the survival of the species is to capture vaquitas and bring them into human care until their wild habitat can be made free of gillnets. CIRVA strongly endorsed the Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery (VaquitaCPR) plan and recommended that as many individuals as possible be captured in October and November 2017 and held until the Upper Gulf is safe for their return. The increased public awareness of the desperate plight of this species, reflected in numerous media articles worldwide, has spawned new initiatives from NGOs and new commitments between the Mexican government and prominent philanthropists to support the effort to remove gillnets from vaquita habitat and to find economic alternatives for the communities of the Upper Gulf. 

Of particular concern was whether the emergency two-year gillnet ban imposed by President Peña Nieto would be renewed after its expiration in April 2017. On June 30, 2017, the Mexican government published official notice of a permanent gillnet ban and strengthened monitoring and enforcement measures, including designated ports of embarkation, a prohibition on night fishing, and a requirement that each fishing vessel be equipped with electronic monitoring equipment. The Marine Mammal Commission, which is fully engaged on all aspects of the international conservation efforts aimed at preventing the extinction of this species, welcomes this important announcement.

The vaquita's range is limited to the northern Gulf of California, Mexico, where gillnets pose a serious threat.
Changes in Arctic Ecosystems & Implications for Marine Mammals
Peter Thomas, the Commission’s International and Policy Program Director, recently served on the Marine Mammal Expert Network that developed findings for the most recent State of the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Report released by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) working group of the Arctic Council. The U.S.-hosted Arctic Council Ministerial found that changing food availability, loss of ice habitat, increases in contagious diseases, and the impending invasion of southern species are taking their toll on Arctic marine mammals and pointing to an ecosystem on the verge of a shift. The Marine Mammal Commission has long supported the development of systematic monitoring to document the effects of environmental change on Arctic ecosystems and the marine mammal species that reside there.
2017-2022 Offshore Oil & Gas Leasing Program Under Review
Every five years, the Department of the Interior develops a new program for oil and gas leasing on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The 2017-2022 program was finalized in December 2016, retaining most of the Gulf of Mexico but withdrawing the Arctic and Atlantic OCS regions. However, a recent Executive Order Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy has called for a review of the 2017-2022 leasing program to encourage energy exploration and production on the OCS, "while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible." The Executive Order also called for expedited consideration of permits for seismic surveys in offshore areas, including those received by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for the Atlantic OCS region and associated incidental take authorizations under review by the National Marine Fisheries Service. See our website for a summary of these and other provisions of the Executive Order that may impact marine mammals.
Improving Stakeholder Involvement Through Alaskan Co-Management
The Commission has received conditional approval of a grant award from the  North Pacific Research Board   to identify essential components and key impediments to effective co-management of marine mammals in Alaska. This project, which would begin in January 2018, engages several leaders of Alaska Native Organizations and members of Alaska Native communities in a review of existing co-management agreements. We are excited to work towards our goal of strengthening relationships and supporting co-management to improve the conservation of marine mammals in a region where they are of critical ecological, social, and economic importance.
Collaboration & Communication in New England

The Commission’s most recent Annual Meeting was held on April 5-7, 2017 in North Falmouth, Massachusetts. The two major topics of discussion were the continued recovery of gray seals and the slowed recovery of endangered  North Atlantic Right Whales. Our general approach was to begin each session with a review of the latest science on an issue of regional importance followed by its relevance to local communities, often highlighted by presentations from local fishermen and business owners. Policy makers then explained existing management strategies that attempt to address the needs of various stakeholders and the species of concern. Participants were encouraged to engage in the discussions following each session, where over 100 attendees were present. This broad engagement highlights the Commission’s unique ability as a non-regulatory oversight agency to convene a wide range of stakeholders and encourage collaborative partnerships that align the needs of people with the conservation of marine mammals - a win-win for all of us.

Explore our Annual Meeting presentations and summaries here !
Fishermen, scientists, & policy-makers all have roles to play in the responsible management of our ocean resources. Here, a lobster fishermen describes how gray seals access bait bags within his traps.
Capitol Hill Oceans Week: Mayor Pletnikoff Brings a Unique Perspective to Washington D.C.

For many years, the Commission has been a sponsor of Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW). This year we were pleased to invite Pat Pletnikoff, Mayor of the City of Saint George, Alaska, to speak at CHOW during a panel discussion on “The Value of America’s Public Waters” that put a spotlight on the importance of our Nation’s marine sanctuaries. The Mayor spoke about some of the challenges and opportunities faced by his constituents in St. George and stressed the importance of the sustainable use and management of marine resources to his local economy and community.

Recognizing the Value of Whales 
We often think about the immense value that we receive from the marine mammals in our oceans. Wildlife viewing, whether at sea or at an aquarium, contributes large revenues to communities across America as well as a substantial number of jobs; the whale watching industry alone contributed roughly 2 billion dollars and 13,000 jobs to the global economy in 2012! As we increasingly quantify and understand this value, we must better incorporate it into existing natural resource management practices – understanding the value of marine mammals can, for instance, be a motivator for reducing bycatch interactions. We’ve established a  new webpage to highlight this perspective and will add our own research on this topic later this year. 
A seal transmits GPS locations to satellites passing overhead.
NMFS permit# 87-1743
Animal Telemetry Network Brings Together Global Tracking Data

In early June, the Commission participated in the first Steering Group meeting of the emerging Animal Telemetry Network (ATN). The ATN provides information about the locations and movements of marine species using electronic tracking devices attached through various high-tech and innovative methodologies. The Steering Group is responsible for providing oversight and guidance for the network with input from a range of stakeholders. Explore some of the animal tracks here!