Commission Newsletter • Fall 2023

Six Species

For about 1 penny per American per year, the Marine Mammal Commission has met its Congressional mandate to conserve marine mammals for 50 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.

The Commission Announces Fiscal Year 2024 Grant Program!

Accepting Proposals until February 14, 2024

Visit our Current Funding Opportunities webpage.

The Marine Mammal Commission’s mission, as defined by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), is to ensure that marine mammal populations are maintained as significant functioning elements of healthy marine ecosystems.

The Commission announces a request for proposals for projects focused on A) marine mammals in a changing climate; or B) advancing diversity, equity, inclusiveness, belonging, accessibility, and justice (DEIBAJ) in marine mammal science.

The Commission will be accepting research proposals until February 14, 2024. For more information on proposal requirements, visit our website.

2023 Annual Meeting of the Marine Mammal Commission

Held in Washington, D.C.

The Marine Mammal Commission held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on 14-15 November, celebrating 50 years of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and MMPA and focusing on national marine mammal science and management issues through the lens of a changing climate. The meeting opened with an overview of the Commission’s work on climate change since 2000, followed by sessions on shifting distributions of marine mammals, marine mammal habitat alterations, marine mammal health, and marine mammal stock assessments. We heard from presenters and panelists who are working to understand and/or address impacts of climate change on marine mammals, including on subsistence activities essential for Alaska Natives. Our annual meetings illustrate the Commission’s unique ability, as a non-regulatory oversight agency, to convene stakeholders to discuss some of the difficult challenges we face in aligning the needs of people with the conservation of marine mammals.

The two-day meeting was well attended with over 400 participants in-person and online. Presentations and video recordings are available on our 2023 Annual Meeting webpage.

Keep an eye out for announcements about the Commission’s 2024 Annual Meeting!

Scientific Symposium at the Smithsonian:

Whales on the Brink

On the day following the Commission’s Annual Meeting, the Commission and its partners, NOAA Fisheries and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, hosted Whales on the Brink: Stories from the Rice’s Whale Discovery and Right Whale Tales, a scientific symposium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ESA. The symposium focused on three whales on the brink: Rice’s whales, North Pacific right whales, and North Atlantic right whales. Rice’s whales were newly identified as a unique species in 2021 and their story is one of numerous collaborations and scientific discoveries. Rice’s whales, along with the Eastern stock of North Pacific right whales, are two of the most endangered whales in the world. The recovery of North Atlantic right whales has been impeded by mortality and serious injury from ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. 

Commission Chair Frances Gulland gave the opening plenary focusing on the rise of the marine mammal and environmental movement that led to Congress passing the MMPA and ESA 50 years ago and reminding us why whales are still worth saving. Commission Scientific Advisor and NOAA Fisheries scientist, Patty Rosel, gave a talk about the discovery of the Rice’s whale, pictured above. In his closing plenary, Commissioner Andy Read highlighted the contributions of museums such as the symposium host, the National Museum of Natural History, to the science that supports cetacean conservation. Most importantly, he emphasized that it’s not too late to recover these species. The Commission is proud to have been a co-organizer and co-host of this symposium with the Smithsonian and NOAA Fisheries.

Commission Chair Frances Gulland on the National Mall with an inflatable replica of a Rice's whale, brought to the Capitol by Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

Commissioner Andy Read left symposium attendees with important take-home messages and a call to action, in celebration of the ESA.

Over 250 people attended in person, with more online. Video recordings of the symposium are being uploaded to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History YouTube channel.

North Atlantic Right Whale Tagging Workshop

The Commission co-hosted a workshop on right whale tagging with NOAA Fisheries, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada in September 2023. The goals of the workshop were to review key knowledge gaps and data needs regarding the movements, life history, and ecology of North Atlantic right whales (NARWs); review the history of satellite telemetry and evaluate progress in tag attachment technologies and follow-up studies; and generate knowledge to inform planning and permitting decisions regarding potential tagging of NARWs.

Visit the event page for details including video recordings, presentations, and a list of participants. The workshop report will be published in early 2024.

Call to Agencies for FY23 Data on Marine Mammal Research

The call for fiscal year 2023 data for the Commission’s annual Survey of Federally Funded Marine Mammal Research opened on October 18th. This online survey and data repository aids the Commission in fulfilling its duties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act by helping to identify gaps or overlaps in marine mammal research efforts or funding, illuminate areas of strength in federal research investment, and inform recommendations on needed agency actions and budget priorities. The fiscal year 2023 data call is open until December 22nd. A summary of the fiscal year 2022 results is available on our website. The Commission thanks all participating federal agencies for providing their information.

New MMC-affiliated publications, media, and reports!

Below are a few recent media highlights that reflect some of the ongoing scientific research, collaborations, and accomplishments of our world-renowned marine mammal scientists. For a reminder about our Commissioners, Committee of Scientific Advisors, and Staff, visit our website.

IUCN Letter to Mexico Concerning the Vaquita – Randall Reeves

The Physiology of Dolphins: Human Impacts on Dolphins – Randall Wells

Bryde’s Whale Aggregation in Panama – Daniel Palacios

Mediterranean Monk Seals in Madeira, Portugal  – Jason Baker

Rice’s Whale Symposium Partnership  – Peter Thomas

Annual Summary – Sarasota Dolphin Research Program – Randall Wells

Heavy Metals and POPs in Mysticetes from UAE – Frances Gulland

Impacts of Marine Heat Waves on Top Predators – Daniel Palacios 

Photo Credit: Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (NOAA Fisheries Permit No. 26622)

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