Congressional Assault on Marine Mammals

The U.S. Congress is currently engaged in a two-pronged attack against the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), one of our most important animal protection laws.

The House of Representatives' version of a Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill, currently pending in a conference committee (where the House and Senate resolve differences in the bill), would allow for broad exemptions from the law not only to the military but to anyone else, including researchers, fishermen, and defense contractors.

DOD wants to change the MMPA definition of "harassment" radically. Rather than referring to activities that injure, torment, or disrupt marine mammals' behavior, the change would mean that only activities causing "biologically significant disruption" would be curtailed. This level of substantiation is very difficult to ascertain, and switches the burden of proof to the government, which would need to show that the disruption was "biologically significant" before protecting marine mammals.

Another recommended change would eviscerate the MMPA further by removing the two primary limitations on the granting of "incidental take" permits: the requirement that the take be geographically limited and that the numbers of creatures affected be small. This would enable the Navy, or any other permit applicant, to kill or injure huge numbers of marine mammals across the oceans with impunity. This one change in language would virtually destroy the ability of the MMPA to protect marine mammals from being harmed or killed incidentally in fisheries, scientific research, and the deployment of devices such as active sonar and air-guns. Some of the impetus for these proposed changes stem from the Navy's desire to deploy its Low Frequency Active sonar over 80% of the world's oceans, potentially slaughtering broad swaths of whales, dolphins and fish with its ear-shattering 234 decibels.

Meanwhile, a bill to reauthorize the MMPA itself (H.R. 2693) has been introduced by the Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo (R-CA) and the Chairman of the Committee's Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee, Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD).  This bill also would amend the MMPA by changing the definition of harassment and weakening the restrictions concerning the "incidental taking" of marine mammals.

Members of Congress should see through these underhanded attempts to weaken protection for marine mammals. Urge your legislators to reject the DOD's unnecessary requests for exemptions from the MMPA and to oppose the Gilchrest/Pombo bill as currently drafted. (Click here for addresses to Congress.)