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40 Facts for 40 Years: The Marine Mammal Protection Act Turns 40

1. The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted on October 21, 1972. All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA. The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the  "take" of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas.

2. Holy moly, that’s a lot of marine mammals—125 marine mammal species worldwide are managed under the MMPA. Learn more.

3.The California coast isn’t just full of movie stars and surfers; it also has the largest concentration of blue whales on Earth. Learn more.

4. Ships have speed limits too. NOAA asks shipping vessels off the California coast to reduce speed while traveling through high whale concentration areas to reduce the risk of ship strikes. Learn more.

5. Every day is an all you can eat krill buffet for blue whales. These huge animals feed exclusively on krill. Learn more.

6. Two big celebrations this year—Marine Mammal Protection Act turns 40 and  Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program turns 20, rescuing and protecting the health of marine mammals since 1992. Learn more.

7. In U.S. waters, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service monitor the status of marine mammal populations every year. See the results in our Stock Assessment Reports. Learn more.

8. Watch out, whale crossing. Vessel strikes are the leading cause of death for the north Atlantic right whale. Learn more.

9. Did you know that only 300-400 north Atlantic right whales remain in existence? The Marine Mammal Protection Act makes sure that number doesn't get any lower. Learn more.

10. We consult with scientists, conservationists, and fishing industry representatives on take reduction teams to reduce the accidental catch of marine mammals during fishing activities. These teams are one of the first of their kind, bringing different expertise together to work toward a common goal: a zero serious injury and mortality rate. Learn more. 

11. The simple act of slowing down can save big, huge lives. When traveling through waters where northern Atlantic right whales are found, vessel operators should slow to 10 knots or less. Learn more.

12. Did you know that Puget Sound orcas are endangered species? Learn more.

13. Ribbon seals don't ice skate, but they do have an interesting way of getting around on ice—rather than using caterpillar movements like most seals, they run across using alternating front legs and swinging their hindquarters. Learn more.

14.  Hey, that’s my rock—after migrating thousands of miles, female fur seals return every year to the same rock where they gave birth the year before. Learn more

15. Stinky science—Did you know that scientists often study marine mammal poop in order to find out what they eat? Learn more.

16. How do whales get out of a bind? NOAA’s specialized team and partners are trained to safely disentangle large whales, using guidelines to minimize risk to animals and rescuers. This also maximizes the potential for success. Learn more.

17. Who travels 12,000 miles to find a mate? California Gray whales do—they make one of the longest trips made by any mammal. They travel from rich feeding waters in Alaskan Arctic to the placid lagoons of Baja California Sur, where they gather each winter to mate & give birth. Learn more.

18. Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s one of the rarest marine mammals of them all? Right whales, of course. Learn more.

19. The heaviest stone bricks on the pyramid of Giza weigh roughly 70 tons. Right whales can weigh up to the same amount. Learn more.

20. How do right whales do dinner? Baleen is a strong, flexible material made out of keratin, a protein that makes up our hair and fingernails. Whales use baleen to filter their prey from the sea water. Learn more.

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40 Years of Marine Mammal Protection

21. We’re proud to say the United States has been a part of the International Whaling Commission since 1949. NOAA is the lead agency for coordinating U.S. efforts to promote the rights and needs of aboriginal subsistence whalers & conservation activities. Learn more

22. When marine mammals are strong, the ocean is strong. Marine mammals are top predators that eat many of the same fish that we do and several species live in our coastal areas. Learn more.

23. Lesson time: two major groups of marine mammals are (1) whales, dolphins, and porpoises and (2) seals, sea lions, and walruses. We protect them all. Learn more.

24. Fur seals migrate the distance of 229 marathons—6,000 miles round trip—from their summer breeding grounds in the Bering Sea. They even sleep floating on the surface of the water during their migrations. NOAA scientists track these seals on their incredible journey. Learn more.

25. The U.S. puts the conservation of healthy and stable ecosystems and the conservation of individual species at the top of its list. Learn more.

26. What a homecoming—our favorite orphan killer whale calf, Springer, was rescued from Puget Sound and returned to her family in Canada in 2002, then spotted again 10 years later. Learn more

27. How do marine mammals react to human-produced sound? Did you know that NOAA Fisheries works with other government agencies and academic institutions to study human-produced sound in the marine environment? Learn more.

28. The Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted on October 21, 1972 so that all marine mammals could have better protections. Learn more.

29. Dolphins will be happy to know—Dolphin SMART is a unique program benefiting both dolphins and participating dolphin-viewing businesses. Learn more.

30. For your safety and theirs, never approach whales within 100 feet. Learn more.

31. True or False? Monk seals eat lobster. Not true! Find out what they eat and learn more

32. Hawaiian monk seals are native to the Hawaiian Islands and Johnston Atoll, which means they are found nowhere else on earth. A rough Hawaiian translation of monk seal is "dog running in the rough seas," learn more about their history. It's a myth that monk seals eat about 400 pounds of fish per day. Learn more

33. Who defends marine mammals? We do—NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement investigates crimes against marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Learn more

34. Marine mammals are the cutest. But feeding, swimming with, or touching marine mammals is illegal and dangerous behavior under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Learn more

35. Who are the top predators in the Antarctic, aside from humans? That would be leopard seals: their diet regularly includes penguins. Learn more.

36. Even Sherlock Homes may be stumped by Pacific right whales—very little is known about their long-term movements and habits. NOAA gathers more clues through research. Learn more.

37. 101 spotted dolphins? Young Atlantic spotted dolphins do not have spots and look like slender bottlenose dolphins. As these animals get older, they acquire more and more spots. Learn more

38. Be a hero hiker like these guys—during the time of a monk seal shooting in May 2009, photos from hikers in the area helped lead the investigators to the perpetrators. Learn more.

39. Why go to Cirque Du Soleil if you have the chance to watch the amazing movements of dolphins? Some describe the swimming of Atlantic spotted dolphins as acrobatic because of  the way they leap and jump at the surface.  Learn more.

40. Leopard seals weigh about 1,000 pounds and have lots of teeth, making them dangerous to be near. No wonder NOAA scientists use flying vehicles to study leopard seals. Learn more.