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Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event Fund


Unusual Mortality Events

sea lions in rehab
Sea Lions in Rehab
Credit: Pacific Marine Mammal Center

2013 Bottlenose Dolphins in the Mid-Atlantic

2013 Bottlenose Dolphins in Florida

2013 California Sea Lions

2011-2012 Bottlenose Dolphins in Texas

2011 Northern Alaska Pinnipeds

2011 Northeast Pinnipeds

2010-2014 Northern Gulf of Mexico Cetaceans

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Related Links

Criteria for Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events

History of the Working Group

Event Fund


Working Group Charter [pdf]

gray whale
Gray Whale
(Eschrichtius robustus)
Photo: NOAA

In response to the death of more than 700 bottlenose dolphins on the East Coast of the United States in 1987-88, NMFS established the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, and within it, the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to determine when an unusual mortality event is occurring, and then to direct responses to such events. Further, in the MMPA Amendments of 1992, Congress included specific provisions for investigating and responding to marine mammal unusual mortality events. Specifically, section 404 (16 USC 1421c) establishes the Marine Mammal Mortality Event Working Group, and section 405 (16 USC 1421d) establishes the Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Event Fund and describes it purposes and how donations can be made to the Fund.

Legal Mandate for the Fund
Pursuant to section 405 of the MMPA, the Fund:

  1. "shall be available only for use by the Secretary of Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior -
    1. to compensate persons for special costs incurred in acting in accordance with the contingency plan issued under section 1421c(b) of this title or under the direction of an Onsite Coordinator for an unusual mortality event;
    2. for reimbursing any stranding network participant for costs incurred in preparing and transporting tissues collected with respect to an unusual mortality event forthe Tissue Bank; and
    3. for care and maintenance of marine mammal seized under section 1374(c)(2)(D) of this title; and
  2. shall remain available until expended."

Although Congress established the UME Fund in 1992, it did not appropriate any specific UME funds until 2005. UME responses and investigations have been primarily funded by NMFS' annual program funds and by the volunteer stranding network organizations.

Under the MMPA, Congress has authorized NMFS to accept donations and gifts for the UME Fund. According to the MMPA, deposits can be made into Fund by:

  1. "amounts appropriated to the Fund;
  2. other amounts appropriated to the Secretary for use with respect to unusual mortality events; and
  3. amounts received by the United States in the form of gifts, devises, and bequests under subsection (d) of this section.
    1. Acceptance of donations -
      For purposes of carrying out this subchapter and section 1374(c)(2)(D) of this title, the Secretary may accept, solicit, and use the services of volunteers, and may accept, solicit, receive, hold, administer, and use gifts, devises, and bequests."

NMFS is in the process of establishing an account with the Department of Treasury to allow the public to provide financial donations for UME investigations and will update this page soon with additional information. In the meantime, if you would like additional information about the Fund or would like to learn about how to donate to the Fund, please contact:

Executive Secretary for the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events
Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program
Office of Protected Resources
NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Tel. 301-427-8402

Please Note: The UME Funds are separate from the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program, which was established by Congress under the 2001 Amendments to the MMPA. Congress has appropriated approximately $4M a year for the "Prescott" program, which is disbursed by NMFS via grant awards to eligible marine mammal stranding network participants. These funds are generally used for day-to-day operations, facility upgrades or specific research projects related to marine mammal health and strandings. Prescott funds are not used for UME investigations per se but do help to strengthen the infrastructure for responses and provide better detection efforts in day to day operations.

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