Cantwell, Sullivan Introduce Bill to Bolster Marine Mammal Rescue and Response

Legislation would create database to track stranded marine mammals, ocean health

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) introduced the Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2016, a bill that would strengthen the government’s efforts to protect and preserve marine mammals such as orcas, seals, sea lions, and sea otters. 

The Act would reauthorize and expand the NOAA John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Grant Program, the primary funding source for organizations that rescue and rehabilitate sick or injured marine mammals.  

“Orcas, whales and other marine mammals are iconic symbols in the Pacific Northwest. Prescott grants are critical in the rescue and response to many of these animals in Washington, including the rescue of Springer the Orca,” said Senator Maria Cantwell. “The Prescott Grant Program is an excellent example of partnership between government, nonprofit organizations and research institutions. Through increased information sharing and collaboration, we can ensure healthier marine mammal populations.”

“Investing in the health and wellbeing of our marine mammals is a bipartisan issue that is worthy of our attention,” said Senator Dan Sullivan.  “I am pleased to work with Senator Cantwell on this legislation that supports and strengthens the important work of the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward, and other similar institutions across the country.”

"The Seattle Aquarium is very supportive and excited to see Sen. Cantwell’s additions related to marine entanglement. The Aquarium is working to provide critical disentanglement of pinnipeds in Washington and Oregon with support provided by NOAA and Boeing. Our vet – Dr. Lesanna Lahner  -  reiterates how important this Prescott bill is for marine mammal health, especially with the dramatic increase they’ve been seeing in entangled marine mammals, including many endangered species. Thanks for including us in the review process and thank you for supporting this important legislation," said Bob Davidson, President and CEO of Seattle Aquarium. 

The Prescott program helps defray the costs of marine mammal rescue, rehabilitation, and data-collection for members of the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Members of the Network are often small, locally-funded volunteer organizations.

The Cantwell-Sullivan bill creates the Marine Mammal Health Map, a new online portal that will enable agencies, nonprofits, and the scientific community to aggregate valuable data on marine mammal strandings in a single location. Such improvements to data accessibility will allow scientists to better identify mammal health trends, including potential human health risks, as well as trends in the ocean overall.  The portal would also improve organizations’ rapid response capabilities, allowing them to quickly reach and provide care to stranded and entangled marine mammals.

The bill also makes Prescott grants available for organizations to assist entangled marine mammals caught in derelict fishing gear and trash, which is an increasing threat to humpback and gray whales on the West Coast. Previously, the program only applied to animals stranded on land.

Washington state organizations like the Feiro Marine Life Center, the Whale Museum, and the Cascadia Research Collective, rely on funding from the Prescott Program. Collectively, these organizations received a total of $303,829 last year in Prescott grant funding to help support their work responding to sick and injured marine mammals

Dr. Joe Gaydos, Wildlife Veterinarian and Chief Scientist for the UC Davis SeaDoc Society program said, “This new bill is exciting. It will facilitate the rapid diagnosis and reporting of diseases that not only impact marine mammal health, but also are dangerous to humans. The health of wildlife, our oceans and people are intimately connected and this reauthorization of the JHPMMRR Grant Program recognizes that and addresses it in a way that benefits all three of these important factors.

The Marine Mammal Research and Response Act of 2016 would also:

  • Require NOAA and the Marine Mammal Commission to analyze marine mammal response capabilities in the Arctic, where coverage is sparse, yet human activity is increasing;
  • Expand access to rapid funding to enable emergency response to marine mammal health needs, such are harmful algal blooms and other large stranding events;
  • Require a report to Congress to analyze the gaps in marine mammal rescue and response across the United States;
  • Increase authorization for the program to $7 million for fiscal years 2017 to 2022;
  • Require that data collected under the program is made publically available to facilitate additional research and improve data archiving;
  • Expand grants to for species under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Interior, to ensure otters, walruses, and polar bears are receive adequate funding.

Senator Cantwell has been a longtime champion of the Prescott Grant Program by leading bipartisan letters, and introducing bills to reauthorize the program in previous Congresses.

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