Since its passing in 1972, the MMPA
has become a complicated act, tough for the layperson to traverse. It is made more difficult because of the reauthorizations and amendments applied to it over the years.
In 1994, the act received a major overhaul that impacted marine mammals kept in captivity.
Naomi Rose is the Senior Scientist for Humane Society International (HSI). She directly oversees HSI campaigns to protect wild and captive marine mammals and is a member of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee. She received her Ph.D. on the social dynamics of killer whales in 1992 from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Rose discusses some of the history behind the MMPA, and why the 1994 amendment changes really didn't favor captive marine mammals at all.
So the MMPA act was amended with big pluses for the captive industry?
Yes. In 1972 when the law was passed, captivity was not very clearly accounted for, but within a few years, they had fleshed it out. By '79, they had a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is within the Dept. of Commerce, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), within the Dept. of Agriculture.
Basically that memorandum assigned care and maintenance standards and their enforcement to APHIS, and any additional permitting standards under the MMPA to NMFS. You hold a license to be an exhibitor under APHIS, which means you're bound by those care and maintenance standards as long as you exhibit those animals. They were originally promulgated in '76, I think. They have been updated at least twice since then.
In the mid 90s Rose said, they were updated again. Not major things, just minor, such as how many years of education you had to have to be a marine mammal vet and NMFS could also include special conditions in the permit the scientists added, so, if facilities had belugas and bottlenose dolphins:
"NMFS could add a special condition to the permit under the MMPA saying they had to be held separately because their water temperature requirements are different. That is not something specified in the care and maintenance standards."
But generalizations said Rose, are common in care and maintenance standards under APHIS, "Whether it's for a puppy mill or livestock, a zoo, or anything," she said, and are "very broad and very vague."
Rose also explained how the entire industry in the US, is overseen by an APHIS team that only has two experts and there's hundreds and hundreds of marine mammals.
Before '94, NMFS’ 80 marine mammal specialists were able to weigh in, so that was a good thing. NMFS was not always our friend by any means, it’s a bureaucratic agency, and they just wanted things to go smoothly and didn't really have a lot of welfare concerns at all, but when they did see something that didn’t make sense, they could in fact do something about it by adding these special conditions under the MMPA permit which all facilities had to hold.
Rose explained that the MMPA is reauthorized every few years, and that it's almost always amended when it's reauthorized. It has been amended periodically, from 1972 to 1994 every few years. But 1994 was the last reauthorization, 18 years ago. In 1994 it was reauthorized with some huge amendments.
So these huge amendments, what did they change?
Basically they [the captive marine mammal industry] just asked for a bunch of things that made their lives easier. They wouldn't have to submit necropsy reports any more. They wouldn't have to get new permits under the MMPA.
I just read that. Even when they transfer these animals, all they have to do is file a letter with NMFS?
Yep, they just have to give a 15 day notification. Prior to '94, every transport, whether it was just a transferral between two facilities, had to be permitted, and as you may or may not know, when you get a permit under the MMPA, that's a public process, that goes into the Federal Register and people have a 30-day public comment period.
Essentially after '94, things became infinitely easier for the industry, and infinitely harder for us. We lost just about everything and didn't get anything we asked for. NMFS was unable to add these special conditions, and we lost access to necropsy reports. The only thing we got was that facilties now have to update their Marine Mammal Inventory Report (MMIR), 30 days after they do something or change the status of an animal – birth, death, transfer. If they do that transfer, they only have to give a 15 day notification, and 30 days later tell NMFS that they transferred that animal.
So basically, the MMIR is a little bit more accurate, because before that, they only had to update it annually, and a lot of information was sort of ... lost. It was just bad bookkeeping prior to ‘94, and that's one of the reasons the MMIR is so full of holes.
We really, really lost a lot, and there is poor coverage for these animals. Basically once they enter these public facilities, they become livestock and no longer wild animals covered by the MMPA.