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20th Anniversary: Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP)

MMHSRP Turns 20:
Rescuing and Protecting the Health of Marine Mammals since 1992

Marine mammals are important indicator species of the health of the ocean. They are top level predators that eat many of the same fish that we do, and several species live in coastal areas utilized by people.

When marine mammals show signs of illness or distress, they may be signaling changes in the marine environment that might also have significant implications for the health of our ocean ecosystems.

Monitoring and studying marine mammal health is important for their conservation as well as maintaining healthy oceans.

MMHSRP Enacted in 1992 as Title IV of the MMPA

Title IV of the MMPA enacted the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP) on November 4, 1992 to

  1. Facilitate the collection and dissemination of reference data and assess health trends;
  2. Correlate marine mammal health with available data on physical, chemical, biological and environmental parameters; and
  3. Coordinate responses to strandings and unusual mortality events (UMEs).

Marine Mammal Strandings

Over 100 organizations partner with NOAA Fisheries to investigate marine mammal strandings. Stranding Network members are trained professionals and volunteers from

Each case provides information about the causes of strandings and factors that may impact the health of marine mammals in the wild.

Entanglement Response

Entanglements are a significant problem and leading cause of mortality for endangered North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales and monk seals. Since 1984, more than 95 large whales have been disentangled, and more than 100 small whales, dolphins, porpoises and pinnipeds are disentangled annually. Trained rescue personnel free marine mammals from fishing gear and new techniques are increasing the number of animals that can be helped. NOAA is working with fishermen on gear modifications to decrease future entanglements.

Unusual Mortality Event (UME) Investigations

UMEs are strandings that are unexpected and/or involve a significant die-off of any marine mammal population and demand an immediate response.

The determination of whether a stranding qualifies as an UME is made by the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events. Working Group members have knowledge and expertise in marine mammal health, biology and marine science. From 1991-2012, the Working Group has helped NOAA Fisheries and the Stranding Network conduct investigations into 56 declared UMEs.

A National Contingency Fund has been established to offset some costs incurred by the Stranding Network during investigations.

John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program

The John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program was established under the Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Act of 2000, an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The Prescott Grant Program provides funding to eligible members of the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network for:

The 10-Year Anniversary Prescott Program Report [pdf] is available on our website.

Marine Mammal Health Assessments

Working with partners from the Standing Network, academia, and from across NOAA, the MMHSRP helps fund or conducts health assessment studies on wild marine mammal populations to develop baseline data, monitor trends and investigate the impacts of disease, natural toxins and pollution. The MMHSRP uses this information to determine health trends in marine mammals & marine ecosystems. Ongoing studies include health assessments of bottlenose dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean & Gulf of Mexico, endangered North Atlantic right whales, North Pacific gray whales, Hawaiian monk seals and California sea lions.

Examples of recent publications: