Commission Newsletter • Winter 2024

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.

A Year in Review: the Commission's 2023 Annual Report

The Marine Mammal Commission is proud to release our 2023 Annual Report, highlighting our work and accomplishments in the previous calendar year. The Commission has published this yearly report to Congress since its inception in 1974. Within this edition, you will find information on our work to provide legal and policy oversight, engage local communities and stakeholders on marine mammal issues, and more. This annual report was designed primarily for electronic distribution and use, directing the reader to relevant sections of our website for additional information. To view Annual Reports from previous years, visit our website.

Click to see the 2023 Annual Report

Vision for Nationwide Marine Mammal Health Surveillance

In continued celebration of One Health Awareness Month beyond January, the Commission is happy to announce the publication of its Marine Mammal Health Surveillance Workshop Report. The “One Health” concept, which recognizes that humans, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked, is central to the Commission’s work on marine mammal health and climate change. Detecting changes in marine mammal health can serve as an early warning system for broader ecosystem changes and potential threats to human health. Early detection is also essential if we hope to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on marine mammal populations. 


The report synthesizes information from a workshop hosted by the Commission in April 2023. During the workshop, invited experts discussed approaches and priorities for monitoring pathogens, toxins, and health parameters that are likely to be influenced by a changing climate. The report identifies priorities for sample collection and testing that will contribute to systematic health monitoring and surveillance and detection of climate change impacts to marine mammals nationwide.  

Workshop participants discussed focal species and populations, considering the conservation value for monitoring and the available options for sampling. For example, sperm whales and some populations of killer and beluga whales are listed as threatened or endangered, and are therefore of highest conservation value for monitoring. Comprehensive hands-on health assessments are feasible for bay, sound, and estuary (BSE) bottlenose dolphins; as year-round resident populations, the BSE dolphins are important sentinels for nearshore threats. 

New Commission Factsheets and Updated Webpage

The Marine Mammal Commission has published informational factsheets to communicate complex issues related to marine mammal science and management. While they are not comprehensive, factsheets serve to provide key points about a topic in a clear, concise, and easy-to-understand way.

Check out our two newest factsheets below:

Climate Change and the Arctic: Alaska Native Subsistence Hunting

Co-management of Marine Mammals in Alaska

Visit our new Commission Factsheets webpage to view factsheets published since 2018.

Welcoming our 2024 NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow

The Commission is excited to welcome and host Brianna Grimes for the 2024 John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. She earned her B.A. in biology from Syracuse University. Currently, Brianna is completing her J.D. and Advanced Certificate in Environmental Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University (graduating in May 2024). Brianna has always had a passion for the marine environment, consistently seeking academic, professional, and extracurricular opportunities in related fields. Throughout her academic career, she has interned at Mystic Aquarium, Edison Electric Institute, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and Baker Botts LLP. Additionally, Brianna was the President of Pace Law’s Environmental Law Society and is currently the Managing Editor for the Pace Environmental Law Review. Brianna looks forward to expanding on her science and legal backgrounds and gaining valuable policy experience throughout her Knauss Fellowship in support of the Commission’s work.

Alaska Happenings!

The Bering Sea Region community members that attended the meeting, including Commission Special Advisor of Native Affairs Vera Metcalf, (left) received an onsite demonstration of the capabilities of the Marine Exchange of Alaska (right).

January was a busy month in Alaska for Commission staff and leadership! In mid-January, we attended the kickoff meeting for the Arctic Watch program, hosted by the Marine Exchange of Alaska. Arctic Watch is being established to provide critical real-time communication between Alaska Native subsistence communities and the Marine Exchange on vessel traffic, subsistence hunting activities, and marine mammal occurrence in the Bering Strait region. Despite tough weather conditions, the meeting in Juneau drew delegates from 20 villages for a tour of the Marine Exchange and for working sessions to start identifying community information needs and concerns regarding increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait region, and the impact of that traffic on marine mammals and subsistence hunting practices there. Commission leadership and staff also participated in various meetings, hosted an informational booth, and attended the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in late January. 

In Case You Missed It!

Commission Annual Meeting – Presentations available on our website and session recordings available on the Commission’s YouTube Channel

Whales on the Brink Symposium: Stories from the Rice’s Whale Discovery and Right Whale Tales – Recorded presentations are available on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History YouTube Channel

Rice’s Whales “In the Spotlight” - The Rice’s whale is NOAA Fisheries’ newest Species in the Spotlight. This initiative is a concerted, agency-wide effort launched in 2015 to bring greater attention and marshal resources to species for which immediate, targeted actions can stabilize the population and prevent extinction.

New MMC-affiliated publications, media, and reports!

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

Diel Humpback Whale Singing – Aaron Thode

Bycatch in Indian Ocean Drift Gillnet Fisheries – Andy Read

False Killer Whale Movements along Central America – Daniel Palacios

Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook – Vera Metcalf

Ingested Plastic in Dolphins and Their Prey – Randall Wells

Commission Scientific Advisor to Lead Right Whale Ecology Program - Daniel Palacios

Dr. Palacios on a research vessel in Oregon (Photo Credit: Jami Ivory via Provincetown Independent).

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