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Non-Releasable Marine Mammals

What is a "non-releasable" marine mammal?

Occasionally, marine mammals rescued and rehabilitated by the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP) cannot be released back into the wild following treatment. The MMHSRP and the Permits and Conservation Division work with captive marine mammal holders to place those animals into permanent captivity.

What is the process for placement of non-releasable marine mammals?

In March 2012, NOAA Fisheries issued a procedural directive for the placement of non-releasable marine mammals [pdf].

A brief summary of the placement process is outlined below:

  1. The stranding center makes a recommendation of non-releasability.
  2. The appropriate NOAA Fisheries Regional Office makes a non-releasability determination.
  3. NOAA Fisheries, Office of Protected Resources (OPR) makes a placement determination:
    1. If the stranding center is also a marine mammal holder, they are consulted regarding the option to retain the animal in their permanent collection. 
    2. If the stranding center is not a marine mammal holder or the decision is made by OPR that the animal should be transferred out of the stranding center, other placement options are sought.
      1. For cetaceans – interested facilities answer a questionnaire based on the specific needs of the individual animal. 
      2. For pinnipeds – OPR consults a list of interested facilities and contacts the next facility on the list.
  4. The receiving facility submits a letter of intent to accept the animal into their collection.
  5. The USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is consulted regarding Animal Welfare Act (AWA) compliance history.
  6. OPR issues a letter of transfer to the receiving facility.

How do I request a non-releasable marine mammal for my institution?

For cetaceans – the questionnaire for non-releasable cetaceans is distributed through the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.  Institutions which are not members of either of these organizations may request to be notified of non-releasable cetaceans as they are available.  Please contact the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources by phone (301-427-8401) to be added to the distribution list.

For pinnipeds – NOAA Fisheries maintains a list of facilities interested in acquiring non-releasable pinnipeds for their collections. Institutions are contacted in the order in which they are on the list and taking into account any acceptance criteria provided (i.e. sex, disability, age). Contact the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources by phone (301-427-8401) for information on how to be included on the list.

Can I get releasable marine mammals for my institution?

A public display permit is required to obtain a rehabilitated marine mammal that NOAA Fisheries has determined to be releasable to the wild.

Updated: September 5, 2012