MMC Newsletter • Fall 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.
Whether working with scientists, managers, or legislators, it can be challenging to succinctly communicate our various roles as an agency. Our first infographic will hopefully make that conversation a little bit easier! 

Check out the full version on our website here .
Commission Funds Seven Projects at the Leading Edge of Marine Mammal Conservation
We are pleased to announce the recipients of our FY17 grants focusing on “Marine Mammal Populations at Extreme Risk.” Fifteen proposals were submitted for consideration and we have funded seven of those for a total of nearly $120K. The funded proposals are:

  • Molecular systematics, taxonomy, and conservation of a critically endangered cryptic lineage of balaenopterid whale from the Gulf of Mexico (Balaenoptera cf. B. edeni)
  • Southern right whales as a model system to investigate the vocal behavior of North Atlantic right whale mother-calf pairs
  • Developing and testing of an inexpensive GPS radio buoy system for early notification of marine mammal entanglements
  • Enhancing Scientific Knowledge about the Endangered Antillean Manatee in Cuba
  • Assessing the distribution and abundance of the Franciscana dolphin and mapping its threats in northern Sao Paulo (Brazil): moving towards conservation in practice
  • Revisiting the demography, ecology, and threat risks of the critically endangered Taiwanese humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis) after a decade of conservation inaction
  • Protecting the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) in the peninsula of Karaburun and Sazan Island of Albania

For more information about these research projects, please visit our FY17 small grants  page

Please check our website in early November for details about the topic area(s), proposal requirements, and submission deadline for FY18 Grant Opportunities .
Vaquita Capture Teams Prepare for Upcoming Rescue Mission
Preparations for the effort to capture vaquitas and bring them into human care intensified over the summer of 2017 following the Mexican government’s decision to proceed. This followed the April 2017 recommendations of the International Recovery Team for Vaquita (read the latest report: CIRVA-9). The Vaquita Conservation, Protection and Recovery ( VaquitaCPR) program includes specialist teams dedicated to searching for vaquitas, attempting to catch them, and caring for them in long-term sea or shore-based enclosures. The first phases of the project, if successful, will be followed by development of longer-term sanctuary facilities with the goal of maintaining vaquitas safely until their wild habitat can be made free of gillnets, the primary threat to their survival. In the meantime, efforts continue to remove active and derelict gillnets, led by WWF-Mexico and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in collaboration with the Mexican Navy, and there is renewed activity in local communities to test alternative fishing gear that does not entangle vaquitas and builds confidence in the sourcing of shrimp and finfish from the upper Gulf of California.
Rescue teams are currently preparing for a live vaquita capture in the northern Gulf of California to save the most endangered marine mammal on earth.
North Atlantic Right Whales Face Uphill Battle After Unusual Mortality Event
(NOAA Permit #15488, Georgia Department of Natural Resources)
Since early June 2017, eleven North Atlantic right whale deaths and five live whale entanglements have been confirmed in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, while three deaths and three entanglements have occurred in the United States. These deaths come on the heels of new findings uncovering that after years of steady, albeit slow, recovery, the population appears to be in decline yet again. The Government of Canada, in collaboration with a broad range of governmental and institutional partners in Canada and the United States, has taken important emergency steps to understand the causes of these deaths, increase surveillance of right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and alert commercial fishermen and vessel operators of emergency measures that can reduce the risk to these animals. Some of these measures include the closures of snow crab fisheries, the restriction of other fixed gear fisheries to shallow water, the delay of fishing until after right whales have left the area, and a ‘Notice to Shipping’ instructing vessels of 65 ft or greater to limit their speed to 10 knots or less in affected waters. The Commission has been following these developments since the first stranding reports and provided support early in the event by sending William McLellan (NOAA large whale necropsy team lead, from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington) to assist with three of the initial necropsies. In late August, NOAA Fisheries declared this an Unusual Mortality Event, and an independent team is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality to investigate the situation further. 
Management of Menhaden From an Ecosystem Perspective
(C) Artie Raslich, Gotham Whale
Fisheries scientists and managers continue to make progress in focusing on the ecological roles of “forage fish” such as herring, anchovies, sardines and menhaden, and how their fisheries indirectly affect their predators like other fish, sharks, seabirds and marine mammals. For example, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is considering a change (Amendment 3) to its fishery management plan (FMP) for Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), a forage fish that is often used for bait or converted to fishmeal. The ASMFC has undertaken a multi-year effort to develop such models and Ecological Reference Points (ERPs) that “are meant to account for changes in the abundance of prey and predator species when setting overfished and overfishing thresholds for menhaden.” While implementation of the menhaden-specific ERPs is still a few years away, Amendment 3 to the menhaden FMP proposes the interim use of generic, rule-of-thumb, forage fish ERPs.  Amendment 3 is available for comment by the public through October 20 th. We will be submitting comments on the potential value of this approach to marine mammals and the use of ERPs in managing the fisheries that take menhaden. Please keep an eye out for these comments, and others, on our Letters page, where you can find our recommendations regarding all federal activities impacting marine mammals and their ecosystems. 
A Spotlight on Marine Mammal Bycatch at the
Indian Ocean Tuna Commission
A false killer whale captured on a pelagic longline (Eric Forney, NOAA). In the IOTC region, longlines, gillnets, and purse seines have the potential for interacting with marine mammals, but how often that occurs is not well documented. More collaborative research and mitigation efforts are necessary.
In early September, the Commission sponsored NOAA Sea Grant Fellow Brendan Talwar and Florida International University’s Dr. Jeremy Kiszka to attend the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch (WBEP) in San Sebastian, Spain. The meeting was primarily focused on conducting a stock assessment for the blue shark, a common bycatch species in the tuna fisheries of the Indian Ocean region. Thanks to discussions between the Commission and the IOTC Secretariat, part of the meeting was also devoted to fisheries interactions involving marine mammals. These interactions are often underreported and we know very little about their frequency in the region. After a presentation by Dr. Kiszka, which summarized what we know about these interactions so far, the WBEP discussed, and ultimately adopted, new language that identifies research needs, calls on IOTC parties to increase their efforts to assess and mitigate marine mammal bycatch, and recommends that the IOTC collaborate with the International Whaling Commission and others to build capacity for marine mammal bycatch mitigation. We thank our partners at FIU and the IOTC for their hard work and believe that these additions will lay the groundwork for marine mammal bycatch reduction in IOTC fisheries in the future. 
A Continued Focus on Bycatch Mitigation
The Commission provided funding and participated in an international workshop entitled “Mitigating Bycatch: Novel insights through multidisciplinary approaches” from September 18-22, 2017. The workshop was hosted by another co-sponsor, the Institut de Recherche et de Développement (IRD) in Montpellier, France, and received funding from NOAA Fisheries. Economists and other scientists as well as fishing and processing industry representatives from North America, Europe, and other countries, participated in the workshop, which focused on non-regulatory, incentives-based approaches to mitigating bycatch. There was also discussion of the effectiveness of market-based incentives such as eco-labeling, unilateral and multilateral trade measures, and product promotion. Case studies addressing finfish and sea turtle bycatch provided insights into possible new approaches to reduce the byca tch of marine mammals, which is the greatest direct source of mortality for these highly vulnerable species. A workshop report is being drafted for consideration as a NOAA Technical Memorandum, as well as a series of articles for a special edition of Endangered Species Research. 
(C) Robin Baird, Cascadia Research

False killer whales Pseudorca crassidens sometimes interact with pelagic longline fisheries based in Hawaii, where they are listed as Endangered. Strategies to mitigate marine mammal bycatch interactions increasingly include economic and market-based approaches.
New Education Resources from the MMC
We are pleased to announce the creation of a new webpage dedicated to teachers! The Commission has developed lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations for school groups at the K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and high school grade levels. We are hopeful that teachers and scientists will find these presentations useful during school visits and outreach programs - feel free to download and use them as much as you like! Most importantly, we hope that these lessons help students learn about the diversity and unique adaptations of marine mammals and are inspired to learn more. Many thanks to our summer intern Anya Pforzheimer, rising senior at American University, for her dedicated work on this project. We welcome any feedback you may have on these educational materials (

Check out our new educational materials here !