Marine Mammal Commission

Survey of Federally-Funded Marine Mammal Research

The Survey of Federally Funded Marine Mammal Research (the Survey) is an online survey and data repository that provides information at a Federal level on what marine mammal research is being supported by different agencies, on which species, where, and at what cost. The Survey aids the Marine Mammal Commission (the Commission) in fulfilling its duties under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) by helping identify gaps in research effort or funding, illuminating areas of strength in Federal research investment, and informing recommendations on needed agency actions and budget priorities.

The Survey of Federally-Funded Marine Mammal Research provides a basis for a more cost-effective and coherent national strategy for studying marine mammals and their ecosystems.

Departments and agencies that undertake marine mammal research activities include: Department of Commerce (National Marine Fisheries Service, National Ocean Service and Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research), Department of Defense (U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Air Force, and Environmental Research Programs), Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management), Department of Health and Human Services (National Institutes of Health), Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Coast Guard), Department of Energy, Department of State, and several independent agencies (National Science Foundation, Marine Mammal Commission, Smithsonian Institution, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and U.S. Arctic Research Commission).

Scope and Nature of Projects Included

The Survey focuses on marine mammal research projects/programs, which in this context are defined as any or all of:

  1. projects funded as part of a recognized research/grants program,
  2. projects supported in response to hypothesis driven scientific research and monitoring (excluding monitoring for mitigation only), and
  3. projects or activities conducted in whole or part to meet the requirements to prepare and update stock assessment reports under section 117 of the MMPA, including the collection and evaluation of abundance data, stock delineation and status information, and estimates of human-caused mortality and serious injury of marine mammals.
sea lions

Sea lions, California. (Guillaume Bauch)

Basic or applied research projects may focus on marine mammal biology, ecology, population dynamics, stock assessment, ecosystem relationships, animal health, or on a variety of human impacts such as whaling, fishing, pollution, sound, coastal development, shipping, and tourism. The social and economic aspects of human/marine mammal interactions, such as the value of whale watching or the effect of growing populations of pinnipeds on coastal communities, can also be the focus of a project. Projects can also involve the development, testing, and deployment of a wide range of scientific methods and technologies. The work may be conducted in the field, a laboratory, an office, or a captive facility, and may involve observations, experimentation, monitoring, computer and statistical analyses, or the use of traditional ecological knowledge.

For every project reported, the Survey captures basic identifying information (e.g., title, principal investigators, sponsoring agency, and performing organization), objectives, focal species, location (large marine ecosystem), disposition of the data, and the amount of the project’s funding.

Use of Survey Results and Data

The collection of the project data allows the Commission to describe the breadth of marine mammal activities taking place or funded across the federal government. For example, of the over 500 projects reported in the fiscal-year 2015 Survey, federal funding totaled $144.2 million. Fifty-eight percent of the funds ($84.3M) were expended by the three agencies with lead regulatory, research, and management responsibility for all marine mammals (National Marine Fisheries Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey). Roughly 22 percent of the funding was directed to projects focused on population dynamics or stock assessment, another 21 percent to biological or ecological studies, and another 14 percent to anthropogenic impacts on marine mammals. These data can also be used to describe the distribution of federal funding by agencies, geographic regions, or species.

Among other things, the results of the Survey are used by the Commission to:

    • inform the advice it provides to Congress and the Administration,
    • illuminate areas of strength and gaps in Federal research investment and effort,
    • inform its recommendations on agency actions and budget priorities,
    • help determine session themes for its annual meetings,
    • help select the focus of Commission Requests for Proposals and research program priorities, and
    • identify potential topic areas for workshops, dedicated survey efforts or more systematic program reviews.

The results also have the potential to be a valuable resource for other federal agencies as they plan their research and management strategies, work to avoid duplication of effort or leverage existing resources and expertise, and strive to identify opportunities for partnering and sharing data with other agencies. The Survey provides a basis for a more cost-effective and coherent national strategy for studying marine mammals and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Implementation of the Survey: Past to Present

The Commission conducted the Survey annually in paper form between 1977 and 2001. Beginning in 2009 the Commission switched to an online data entry system. To see the two most recent Survey reports, click here for fiscal-year 2014 and here for fiscal-year 2015

Following completion of the Survey for fiscal-year 2015, the Commission received extensive feedback from its federal partners asking about the Survey’s purpose, the intended use of the results, and the need to collect the level of detail requested on funding lines and amounts.

Bowhead and beluga whales

Bowhead and beluga whales (Credit: Vicki Beaver | Permit #14245 | NOAA/AFSC/NMML and the North Slope Borough).

This led the Commission to suspend data collection, hold a series of consultations with the agencies contributing the most to marine mammal research, and undertake significant revisions to the Survey. Input from National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and U.S. Navy was incorporated into the redesign of the Survey.

The Survey has now been simplified to reduce the reporting burden on participating agencies, improve the accuracy of information collected, and increase the value of the compiled data. The fiscal-year 2019 data call will begin in March 2020 and a summary of the results will be posted here later in the year.