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Wildlife Population Management Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972

September 1976

Citation: 6 ELR 50096

Issue: 9

Author: Sanford E. Gaines and Dale R. Schmidt


In the first years of the 1970s, at the height of the national blossoming of environmental awareness, a common concern for the condition of marine mammals crystallized in the public mind. Commercial whalers had decimated the populations of the great whales, and the blue whale, it was then thought, was perhaps already fated to subside gradually into extinction. Sport hunting jeopardized the polar bear, boaters harassed the rare manatee, and the sea otter was recovering but still vulnerable. The United States government killed seals by the thousands in commercial harvests of disputed scientific justification and alleged brutality. To wildlife conservationists, it seemed that the viability of marine mammals was seriously threatened by human activities. Yet, some of these same marine mammals were widely judged to be intelligent, highly organized, and socially responsive species, and therefore especially worthy of human care and protection. The public concern over the plight of marine mammals and a complementary public interest in their unique characteristics generated a broadly based movement to grant them special legislative protection going far beyond existing wildlife management and endangered species protection laws.

The product of that movement was the ambitious Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA),1 which aspires to "protect, conserve, and preserve the marine mammals of the world."2 It envisions a sophisticated pattern of scientific management of these mammals for the ultimate purpose of maintaining the health and stability of the marine ecosystem. To this end, the Act prescribes a number of specific objectives:3

Sanford E. Gaines is an attorney in Boston, Massachusetts. A.B. 1967, M.A. (East Asian Studies) 1974, J.D. 1974, Harvard University. Mr. Gaines was a project director at the Environmental Law Institute at the time this Article was written.

Dale R. Schmidt, B.A. 1970, Yale University; J.D. 1976, The American University. Mr. Schmidt was a research assistant to Mr. Gaines and is now a summer scholar at the Environmental Law Institute.

Much of the research for this Article was done for the United States Marine Mammal Commission under contract MM5AC-029. However, the views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Marine Mammal Commission.

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