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.
Credit: The Marine Mammal Center
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
- Facilitate the collection and dissemination of reference data and assess health trends;
- Correlate marine mammal health with available data on physical, chemical, biological and environmental parameters; and
- 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
- nonprofit organizations
- coastal state and local governments.
Each case provides information about the causes of strandings and factors that may impact the health of marine mammals in the wild.
Credit: Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies
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.
- Large Whale Disentanglement Program
- Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network
- North Pacific Large Whale Disentanglement Network
- In the Wake of Giants Documentary Film
- PSA: "Entanglement of Steller Sea Lions in Marine Debris: Identifying Causes and Finding Solutions"
California Sea Lions
Credit: The Marine Mammal Center
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:
- Recovery and treatment (i.e., rehabilitation) of stranded marine mammals;
- Data collection from living and dead stranded marine mammals for scientific research regarding marine mammal health; and
- Facility operations directly related to those purposes.
The 10-Year Anniversary Prescott Program Report [pdf] is available on our website.
Marine Mammal Health Assessments
Bottlenose Dolphin Health Assessment
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:
- Schwacke, L. H., M. J. Twiner, S. De Guise, B. C. Balmer, R. S. Wells, F. I. Townsend, D. C. Rotstein, R. A. Varela, L. J. Hansen, E. S. Zolman, T. R. Spradlin, M. Levin, H. Leibrecht, Z. Wang, and T. K. Rowles. 2010. Eosinophilia and biotoxin exposure in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from a coastal area impacted by repeated mortality events. Environ Res 110:548-555.
- Schwacke, L.H., E.S. Zolman, B.C. Balmer, S. De Guise, R.C. George, J. Hoguet, A.A. Hohn, J.R. Kucklick, S. Lamb, M. Levin, J.A. Litz, W.E. McFee, N.J. Place, F.I. Townsend, R.S. Wells and T.K. Rowles. 2011. Anaemia, hypothyroidism and immune suppression associated with polychlorinated biphenyl exposure in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Proceedings of the Royal Society. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.0665
- Wells, R.S., H.L. Rhinehart, L.J. Hansen, J.C. Sweeney, F.I. Townsend, R. Stone, D. Casper, M.D. Scott, A.A. Hohn, and T.K. Rowles. 2004. Bottlenose dolphins as marine ecosystem sentinels: Developing a health monitoring system. EcoHealth 1:246-254
- Gulland, F.M.D., Nutter, F., Dixon, K., Calambokidis, J., Schorr, G., Barlow, J., Rowles, T., Wilkin, S., Spradlin, T., Gage, L., Mulsow, J., Reichmuth, C., Moore, M., Smith, J., Folkens, P., Hanser, S.F., Jang, S., and Baker, C.S. 2008. Health assessment, antibiotic treatment, and behavioral responses to herding efforts of a cow-calf pair of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Sacramento River Delta, California. Aquatic Mammals 34(2): 182-192