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Public Display Permit for Marine Mammals

Process to Acquire Releasable Rehabilitated Marine Mammals

We have drafted a procedural directive that will require would-be applicants who want to obtain a releasable rehabilitated marine mammal for public display purposes to first apply for a permit to take (collect) animals from the wild under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The comment period closed on December 15, 2017, and we are reviewing the comments. 

Do I need a public display permit?

You need a public display permit if you want to:

Public display permits are not available for species listed as depleted under the MMPA or threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Do I need a scientific research permit for research on public display animals?

  1. No, if you are doing non-intrusive research
  2. Yes, if you are conducting intrusive research

Note: For captive animals, intrusive research includes activities that, in the reasonable judgment of the attending veterinarian, would constitute a risk to the health or welfare of the captive animal.

Do I need a permit for enhancement activities on public display animals?

Yes, if your activities are to enhance the survival or recovery of a marine mammal species or stock or to retain non-releasable ESA-listed marine mammals. Examples of enhancement activities are captive breeding for release to the wild and head start programs (e.g., Hawaiian monk seals). Enhancement does not include captive breeding to sustain a captive population for public display purposes.

When should I apply?

The timeline below is an approximation only and the time of issuance of a permit may vary.

Action Time
Review of application for completeness 30-90* days
Initial NEPA determination; if necessary, a document is drafted:
» EA 30-60 days
» EIS 365 days (1 year)
Federal Register public comment period 30 days
Applicant responds to comments received 60 days
Finalize NEPA analysis and Permit Decision 30-60 days

*If NMFS requires information during the review or processing of an application, the information must be provided within 60 days or the application may be considered abandoned or withdrawn.

How do I apply?

You must submit an application following the Instructions for Public Display Permits [pdf], also available in Word version. The application can be submitted by mail:

Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources, NOAA Fisheries
1315 East-West Highway, Suite 13705
Silver Spring, MD 20910

You must include one signed original and one electronic copy either via CD or via email (call our office at 301-427-8401 for an email contact).

Permit applications for scientific research or enhancement of marine mammals are also available on our website.

Do I need a permit to export marine mammals for public display in other countries?

No, you do not need a permit to export marine mammals for public display purposes.  However, the receiving facility must demonstrate that they meet comparable standards.  Please note that species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or depleted under the MMPA may not be exported. 

Comparable standards means standards that are similar to those that a facility in the U.S. must meet, which include:

In addition, the appropriate agency of the foreign government (e.g., the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) management authority of the government) must submit a statement to the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources certifying that:

More Information

Updated: June 27, 2014