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Feeding or Harassing Marine Mammals in the Wild is Illegal and Harmful to the Animals

Why is it illegal to feed, attempt to feed or harass marine mammals in the wild?
Feeding, attempting to feed, and harassment of marine mammals in the wild by anyone is prohibited by regulations enacted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Feeding, attempting to feed, or otherwise harassing marine mammals in the wild was made illegal because it is harmful to the animals in the following ways:

How is "harassment" defined under the MMPA?
Harassment means any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A harassment); or that has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, but does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level B harassment).

Does NOAA Fisheries Service have a policy about interacting with marine mammals in the wild?
NOAA Fisheries Service maintains a policy on human interactions with wild marine mammals that states:

You can find recommendations on proper viewing of marine mammals on our website http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/education/viewing.htm

How can people responsibly view marine mammals in the wild?
NOAA Fisheries Service supports responsible viewing of marine mammals in the wild. Each of our six Regional Offices have developed viewing guidelines or regulations tailored to the specific needs of the species in their area to help people responsibly view the animals and avoid harassment. In general, the guidelines recommend:

In addition to these recommended guidelines, Federal regulations strictly prohibit close approaches to certain species of marine mammals and feeding or attempting to feed any species of marine mammal:

For more details, please see our website, Responsible Marine Wildlife Viewing, as well as 50 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 216.3 and 50 CFR 224.103.

What research identifies the risks to marine mammals from feeding or provisioning?
Scientific research has documented the harmful consequences when humans feed or provision marine mammals in the wild. Notable literature includes:

What research supports the need for responsible viewing practices?
Scientific research has shown that human interactions, either boat-based or intentionally swimming with marine mammals in the wild, can disrupt their normal behavior and activities. Notable literature includes:

How does NOAA educate the public about feeding and harassment regulations under the MMPA?
NOAA Fisheries Service works cooperatively with many partners, including other federal and state wildlife officials, to educate the public that it is illegal to feed and harass wild marine mammals with clear and consistent outreach messages. We use a variety of innovative methods to ensure the public understands why feeding or harassment is illegal, how these activities may harm marine mammals in the wild, why these activities are unsafe for people, and how to avoid these illegal activities and enjoy viewing marine mammals in the wild.

Examples of some of NOAA Fisheries' education and outreach campaigns to prevent feeding and harassment of marine mammals:

What can people do if they see a marine mammal violation?
To report marine mammal violations, such as people feeding, attempting to feed, or harassing marine mammals in the wild, please contact the national NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline: 1-800-853-1964. Information may be left anonymously.

What can happen to those prosecuted for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act?
NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement also works closely with other state and federal law enforcement agencies to enforce federal regulations and investigate violations when they occur.

If prosecuted for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, civil or criminal penalties could include:

Examples include:

Updated: May 16, 2013