Marine Mammal Permits and Authorizations
Overview of Marine Mammal Permits
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) generally prohibits "take" of marine mammals in U.S. waters by any person and by U.S. citizens in international waters. NOAA Fisheries can authorize take for the following activities:
- Scientific research
- Enhancing the survival or recovery of a marine mammal species or stock
- Commercial and educational photography
- First-time import for public display
- Capture of wild marine mammals for public display
- Incidental take during commercial fishing operations
- Incidental take during non-fishery commercial activities
NOAA Fisheries recommends submitting applications at least 6 months in advance of the intended research start date for non-ESA listed species and at least 1 year in advance for research on ESA-listed species. Permits that involve marine mammals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) require additional review and processing time under the ESA and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Some species of marine mammals are also protected by the Fur Seal Act (FSA) [pdf], which can mandate additional restrictions.
Processing time for an application starts once the application is determined complete, not on the date received.
Manatees, polar bears, sea otters, walruses, and dugongs are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; you must contact them regarding permits and authorizations for these species.
If you have any questions, please contact the Permits, Conservation and Education Division at 301-427-8401 before submitting an application.
ESA-Listed Marine Mammals
If any of the target species you are requesting a permit/authorization to cover are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, you will need to apply for permits and authorizations from the list below.
Non-ESA-Listed Marine Mammals
If none of the target species you are requesting a permit/authorization to cover are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA, you will need to apply for permits and authorizations for non-listed species from the list below.
Scientific Research and/or Enhancement Permit
A Scientific Research and/or Enhancement permit is required for any proposed research activity that involves "take" with the exception of those activities covered by the General Authorization. Any research involving ESA-listed species also requires a permit. Prior to permit issuance, applications undergo a 30-day public comment period and are reviewed by experts from NOAA Fisheries, the Marine Mammal Commission, and other Federal agencies as appropriate.
NOAA Fisheries recommends submitting applications at least 1 year in advance for research on ESA-listed species and at least 6 months in advance of the intended research start date for non-ESA listed species.
There are two options to apply for a permit:
(1) Apply online via Authorizations and Permits for Protected Species (APPS):
(2) Apply by mail or email using the instructions below:
Please submit two copies of your application:
- Signed original application to the:
Chief- Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources
1315 East-West Highway
F/PR1, Room 13705
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226
- Electronic copy of the application (must be in Word, WordPerfect, or PDF) and sent as an email attachment (contact the Permits Division at 301-427-8401 for a current email address) or on a CD.
Commercial or Educational Photography Permit
(This permit applies only to species not listed under the ESA with methods involving "Level B Harassment" only. This permit does not provide any authorization for activities involving ESA-listed species or methods involving "Level A Harassment". Please contact the Permits, Conservation and Education Division at 301-427-8401 for any inquiries regarding photography of ESA-listed species.)
Similar to the restrictions that apply to the General Authorization for Scientific Research, the 1994 MMPA amendments also provided new authority to issue permits for educational and commercial photography involving only Level B Harassment of non-listed marine mammals (i.e., those species not listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA).
For faster processing, please submit your application electronically, which will expedite the review process. However, you will still need to mail a signed original and two hard copies of the application along with the electronic copy.
Public Display of Marine Mammals
Do you need a public display permit (capture, import or retention of releasables)? Need to report a change to your marine mammal inventory?
Marine Mammal Parts
Marine mammal parts include any part of a marine mammal, both hard and soft, including include parts derived from tissues, such as cell lines and DNA, but do not include urine or feces.
A letter of authorization is required for importing or exporting "pre-Act" marine mammal parts for commercial or personal use.
Pre-Act parts are either those marine mammal parts taken prior to enactment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972.
If the parts are from endangered or threatened marine mammals listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), they must be at least 100 years old.
If you would like to receive marine mammal parts taken from stranded marine mammals after 1972 for use for scientific research, education, or curation, please contact the appropriate NOAA Fisheries Stranding Network Coordinator.
If you would like to import or export marine mammal parts taken after 1972 for scientific research or enhancement purposes, you will need to apply for a scientific research permit. You will also need to apply for a scientific research permit if you plan on conducting research using marine mammal cell lines.
Updated: June 27, 2014